BOLIVAR — Ozark doesn’t see Bolivar much anymore, not since most of the COC’s smaller schools decided to not include the Liberators in on their talks to join the Big Eight Conference a few years back.
This school year, Ozark’s softball team visited Bolivar, the golf teams make their way to Silo Ridge Golf Course in Bolivar for a tournament, the track teams will take part in the Southwest Baptist Invitational and the Tigers’ basketball program has continued its series with the Liberators.
On the hardwood the past two years, there's been something about the Ozark-Bolivar matchup that has brought out the best in the Liberators and the worst in the Tigers.
Ozark was humbled by Bolivar on Tuesday to the tune of 72-49. Hard to call it a fluke, the Tigers bowed to the Liberators last season 76-52.
“We could learn a lot from Bolivar,” coach Mark Schweitzer said. “They play how I envisioned we would play at the beginning of the season. We didn’t play very well and they played awesome.”
Bolivar (13-1) was very good offensively from downtown and inside the arc. The Liberators made 10 3-pointers on their way to 41 points in the first half. They didn’t have a trey in the second half, but still managed 31 points.
Hunter Berry burned Ozark for six 3-pointers and 20 points in the first 10 minutes.
“They move the ball really well up the floor and we knew that,” Schweitzer said. “I thought we were ready for it. But the evidence on the floor was we were not. We didn’t turn around and find our men. They made one-pass 3s.”
“We struggled to find our man in transition,” center AJ Elliott said. “They would beat us down the floor, whether we would make our shot or miss, and they didn’t miss much.”
There were only couple bright spots on the night for Ozark. Alonzo Riwa’s defense stood out. He emerged and shut down Berry.
“I’ve played with Hunter since I was a little kid. I know how he likes to get open,” Riwa said. “I was denying him and making sure his little tricks to get open weren’t working. He can stroke the ball. When he gets hot, he gets really hot. We really needed to slow him down.”
Riwa later took on Bolivar’s freshman sensation, 6-foot-5 swingman Kyle Pock. Pock might be the best player in Southwest Missouri who many fans outside of Bolivar had yet to hear of. He thrived while creating his shot against Ozark and ended with 20 points. His fundamentals are far advanced for a freshman.
Pock’s grandfather is former long-time Branson track coach Rod Pock, who serves as a starter at many track meets in the area. Schweitzer played in high school against Kyle’s father and uncle.
“I didn’t know him as an eighth-grader. I learned more about him as we were preparing for this game,” Schweitzer said. “He’s a very good freshman. He dominated the second half."
“Pock uses his body really well to position himself to get the shots he wants (with his back to the basket),” Riwa said. “If not, he can take you off the dribble. He can play like a guard because he moves his feet well on offense and defense.”
The Tigers were outscored 30-9 from 3-point land. Their only consistent threat was Elliott, who had 16 points.
“We got AJ going after two not-so-awesome offensive games from him (at the Blue & Gold Tournament),” Schweitzer said. “He got going on the block against pretty good-sized kids.
“We didn’t keep pace scoring with them,” Schweitzer added. “Our guard play has got to get better. We were awful. Their guards just kicked our butts. I’m not telling our kids to not go down the floor. I’m not pulling the reigns. Teams are stopping us from dong it and our ball-handling is not very good, our passing is not very good and our decision-making is not very good.”
Ozark (6-5) has averaged 48.7 points a game during its three-game losing streak. The Tigers have the rest of the week to get back on track in practices. They start COC play at home versus Branson next Tuesday.
“At the beginning of the year, we were flowing better,” Elliott said of the offense. “Recently, and I’m not going to call anybody out because it’s not any one person's fault, our shots aren’t falling. It should come back eventually.”
“We’re not very good right now,” Schweitzer said. “If we play like this, we won’t win many games. We’re looking at a losing record and a really bad year, if we can keep on this path.”
OZARK (49) — Cline 2 0-0 4, Skaggs 1 2-2 4, Brockman 1 0-0 2, Harmon 1 0-0 3, Flavin 2 0-0 4, Riwa 3 0-0 7, Elliott 7 2-7 16. Totals 21 4-10 49.
BOLIVAR (72) — Berry 8 0-0 22, Hitchcock 2 2-3 6, Frasier 0 1-2 1, Rowell 4 1-2 13, Pock 8 4-4 20, Pollock 5 0-0 10. Totals 27 8-11 72.
Ozark 15 11 12 11 - 49
Bolivar 24 17 12 19 - 72
3-point goals - Berry 6, Rowell 4, Riwa, Harmon, Whatley.