SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Anthoni Sandford is a man of few words.
It’s not like the Vashon junior needed much when asked how it felt to return to the Class 4 men’s basketball state championship game.
“It’s awesome,” Sandford said.
Sandford and the Wolverines kept their title defense alive with a 48-39 win over New Madrid County Central in a Class 4 semifinal on Friday at Missouri State University’s Hammons Student Center.
“This game was everything we thought it would be,” Vashon coach Tony Irons said. “We knew it was going to be a war.”
Vashon (27-4) qualified to face Tolton (22-8) in the Class 4 state championship game at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Vashon will be looking to win back-to-back state championships and Iron’s fifth state championship since 2016.
“Tony is one hell of a coach,” said New Madrid County Central coach Lennis McFerren.
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Central (20-9) overpowered Vashon’s offense early. Wolverines missed their first nine shots in the first six minutes of the game.
Then things finally clicked.
“What clicked was that we stopped shooting jumps and going to the basket,” Irons said. “We just had to get to the edge. We had to do something downhill and get to the free-throw line to get something easy. I think we’re pushing a bit.”
Vashon scored eight of his nine first-quarter points in the final minute of the quarter.
Despite foul issues that saw him in and out of the lineup throughout the game, Kennard Davis led Vashon with 14 points.
“My teammates would pick me up,” Davis said. “After catching a foul they would make a good play and that would boost my confidence.”
Vashon took his first lead midway through the second quarter and never looked back. Jayden Nicholson scored seven of his 11 points in the third quarter as Vashon extended his lead to double digits.
“I just wanted to play hard and play with my team and give it my all,” Nicholson said.
Junior Cameron Stovall added 10 points and four rebounds from the bench as Vashon sank deep on his bench due to early foul issues.
“That’s what we’ve been all year,” Irons said. “At the beginning of the year, we played 13 games. Just so people have experience. People have grown throughout the season. We have confidence in our bench.”
New Madrid County Central had their chances at the free-throw line but only reached 10 of 22.
McFerren said the state semifinal was not a factor.
“It wasn’t the pressure, we just can’t shoot free throws,” McFerren said.
Against Vashon’s teeming defense, the Eagles struggled to get into an offensive rhythm, only managing buckets on consecutive possessions twice in four quarters.
“You can’t expect speed,” McFerren said. “Speed takes everything away from you. They were very quick and used that speed. You can’t train against speed. You can talk about it, but you can’t show it.”