REPUBLIC — Kael Combs has gotten very used to Nixa winning against COC competition.
The Eagles ran their winning streak against their COC counterparts to 14 games dating back to last season by ripping Republic 76-58 in an anticlimactic showdown Thursday.
Going back even further, to Combs’ seventh-grade year, he’s been part of Nixa teams that have tasted defeat within the COC only once. He was part of COC Tournament championship teams in seventh grade and eighth grade. His class boasted a combined 54-0 record on the A team and B team levels in two years of junior high ball.
“This is nothing new,” Combs said. “It just means a little more in high school than it did in junior high.”
Nixa (20-3 overall and 6-0 in the COC) took a tremendous step toward its second straight conference championship by making easy work of Republic (20-3 and 6-1).
The game seemed over as soon as it started. The Eagles jumped on top of the shell-shocked Tigers by counts of 20-4 and 28-7.
Combs dunked out of a half-court set and in traffic on his way to 20 points.
Colin Ruffin was outshooting Republic’s Drew McMillin early on, with Ruffin hitting a trio of 3-pointers in the first quarter en route to a 17-point night. McMillin didn’t hit his first trey until the second quarter and eventually got hot to finish with 31 points. But he never could rally the Tigers.
“Our defense was really good,” Nixa coach Jay Osborne said. “I know McMillin got 30-some points. But he was pulling up from deep. He’s a tough player. We did a really good job on (Ahlante) Askew.”
The shootout of super sophomores featuring Combs and Askew was completely one-sided. Askew had just five points. Combs is so much more advanced physically, it’s actually unfair to compare Askew to him at this juncture.
Combs took pride in getting the best of Askew.
“Me and Ahlante, we’ve known each other since kindergarten and we’ve played against each other all the time,” Combs said. “We’ve got a little connection where we’re cool off the court. But I had something to prove this game. I wanted to show people I’m the best (sophomore) in the area.”
Nixa’s last loss to a COC foe was at Ozark last season. Over the past two seasons, the Eagles are 17-2 against COC teams within and outside conference play. Their 14-game winning streak against COC teams has seen them win by an average margin of 21.6 points.
“If we keep playing well, (that streak) could go on for a long time,” Osborne said. “To score in the 70s against a well-disciplined, well-run machine, this was a great win. They’ve got a nice team.
"This game was highlighted on the schedule,” he added. "I’m proud of our guys. They were focused. We established an inside game with (Jaret) Nelson early on. We’re not turning the ball over. We’re getting really good possessions.”
With Republic's weakness being interior size, Nelson put up 17 points and Jason Jones had 10.
“We talked in pre-game about running the offense around me and Jason or whoever our ‘big’ was inside,” Nelson said. “I tried to make something happen when we went inside.”
“Coach told us to get the ball in,” Combs said. “If they collapsed, we have shooters outside. But he mainly wanted us to focus on getting the ball in to Nelson and Jason (Jones) and from there see where it goes. I think coach knew we were going to dominate inside so he wanted us to look inside first. It worked out well.
“I knew Republic came in with a lot of confidence,” Combs added. “This was for the COC title basically. It was a big win. But I don’t take COC games any differently than other games. I come in with the mindset that we should beat the other team always.”
That said, Combs does know when it’s a COC night. He can do what many of his cohorts can’t by rattling off the names of all nine of Nixa’s COC opponents.
“Republic and Neosho. Is Carl Junction in there?” Combs said while receiving a thumbs-up on the Bulldogs. “Joplin, Carthage, Webb City, Willard. I don’t know how many I’m at right now. Ozark and Branson.”
Combs is looking forward to his fellow sophomores joining him at the varsity level the next two seasons and Nixa maintaining its COC dominance. The Eagles’ junior-varsity has lost just once this winter, with their lone defeat being a double-overtime setback to Kickapoo.
“They’re waiting for their time and working hard,” Combs said. “We have a really good varsity bunch now, so they don’t get to play (on the varsity). But when the seniors this year are gone, our sophomores are going to be ready to go. We’re going to pick up right where we left off in junior high.”
Nixa will close its regular-season slate with a road trip to Neosho (11-9 and 2-3) on Friday and home dates versus Carl Junction (4-17 and 1-5) on Tuesday and Branson (9-10 and 1-3) on Wednesday.
“This is one step further to a conference title, which is one of our goals,” Osborne said. “We’ve got three more (games) to go. We should be favored in all three. But we’ve got to take care of business.”
Nixa 76, Republic 58
NIXA (76) — Ruffin 6 2-2 17, Turner 2 1-2 6, Combs 9 0-0 20, Sorgenfrei 1 0-0 3, Wofford 1 0-0 3, Nelson 7 3-5 17, Jones 4 2-3 10. Totals 30 8-12 76.
REPUBLIC (58) — Askew 2 0-0 5, Fronabarger 4 0-0 9, Drew McMillin 9 9-9 31, Moody 2 1-1 5, Welch 2 0-0 4, Devon McMillin 2 0-1 4. Totals 21 10-11 58.
Nixa 20 17 22 17 - 76
Republic 7 12 20 19 - 58
3-point goals - D. McMillin 4, Ruffin 3, Combs 2, Turner, Sorgenfrei, Wofford, Fronabarger, Askew.