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Tigers dealt first loss by Springdale in semifinal at Republic Tournament

OZARK'S JACE WHATLEY AND JAKE GARNER chase down a Springdale ball-handler Thursday.
OZARK'S JACE WHATLEY AND JAKE GARNER chase down a Springdale ball-handler Thursday.

REPUBLIC — Ryan Engel hopes his senior season plays out as well as his workouts in the weight room went over the spring, summer and fall and his visit to a tattoo parlor turned out.

“I found more enjoyment in (weightlifting) and seeing the progress. I love it,” the Ozark senior guard said about the 15 pounds of muscle he’s added over the past nine months. “I feel a lot more imposing, ready to play and take on anything.”

Engel has opened his senior season by scoring in double figures in both of Ozark’s first two games at the Republic Tournament. He netted 13 points in the Tigers’ 69-60 loss to Springdale, Arkansas, in a semifinal Thursday.

Engel netted two 3-point goals in the first quarter and added another trey in the fourth quarter, before fouling out.

“Ryan has done everything we've asked him to do,” coach Mark Schweitzer said. “He's playing with confidence. We couldn't get started tonight, but he got us going with a couple 3s. If he wouldn't have got in foul trouble, he probably would have had more 3s. He's usually like that. Once he finds (his stroke), he gets on a run.” 

Springdale led the entire way, despite playing without its best player, injured D-I recruit Isaiah Sealy, who is ranked No. 72 nationally by one publication. The Bulldogs entered the tournament 0-3, after playing in a Thanksgiving Hoopfest in Duncanville, Texas, that attracted national powers.

If Springdale would have had Sealy this week, the Bulldogs likely would be the best team Ozark will see all season. They might be, anyway.

Springdale had six players combine to make 11 3-pointers and when the Bulldogs missed, they hit the offensive boards with ferocity.

“They're a good team, they can play. I was pretty impressed,” Schweitzer said.

Ozark's free-throw woes carried over from its opening-round win against Park Hill South. The Tigers made only 12-of-22 free throws Thursday, after going 24-of-40 at the foul line Wednesday.

It adds up to dreadful 58-percent accuracy. The Tigers finished last season with 69-percent free-throw shooting.

Ozark guard Hudson Roberts held up very well opposite Springdale's tight defense. He didn’t have an easy shot all night, but still sliced his way in between defenders en route to scoring 23 points.

The Tigers (1-1) fell behind by as many as 17 points, before their full-court pressure led a late charge and cut Springdale’s lead to single digits.

“We put in more agile players and they showed they can press,” Schweitzer said. “With the schedule we have early on, it's hard to plan on being able to press these type of teams. We did show we can do a little bit of that. I was proud of our effort.”

“We don't quit,” Engel said. “We’re going to play until the last minute. I think that's going to carry us far.”

Engel’s confidence in the Tigers is as strong as his religious beliefs. He received a forearm sleeve tattoo symbolizing his devotion earlier this year.

“It's a verse, a representation of Christ,” Engel said “I wanted to do it to express my faith.”

Engel even gave football a try over the summer for the first time, before deciding it wasn’t for him.

“It was something to try my last year (of high school). Why not,” he said. “But I didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to.”

Ozark will play for third place Saturday against Rogers, Arkansas. For the second straight season, the Tigers will follow up the Republic Tournament with a trip to Kansas City for the Blue Springs Tournament next week.

“Our first six games are a gauntlet,” Schweitzer said. “It made us better last year.”