By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
HOT SPRINGS – Viola converted 23 West Side turnovers into 27 points and pulled away during the second half and won the Class 1A state basketball tournament championship 62-47 at the Bank OZK Arena on Thursday.
West Side played for the second time in school history for the boys’ state title. The Eagles defeated Gould 43-42 in the 1983 championship game.
It was the fifth game this season between the two teams and the third time in a tournament final. Viola also defeated West Side in the conference and regional tournaments.
Malachi Miller led West Side with 18 points and Travis Gentry had 15 points. Game most valuable player Mason Luna scored a game-high 21 points for Viola. Bryson Luna contributed 16 points and Gage Harris chipped in 13 points.
West Side (28-7) utilized the inside game with Miller, who scored 10 points for a 14-8 lead after the first quarter. Viola rallied late in the second quarter and took a 28-25 lead into the dressing room at halftime.
Viola (37-6) began its push with a 15-7 scoring run and increased the lead to 46-34 going into the fourth quarter. The Longhorns put the game early in the fourth quarter with a 7-0 scoring run.
“We had a great year,” West Side coach Keith Brown. “I could not be more proud of a group of players. I wouldn’t trade them for anybody. They are good kids and will do outstanding things in life. The team took me on a great ride. We didn’t get it done tonight Thursday) and it stings right now.”
First-year Viola head coach Rick Luna, who led Dora to the Missouri Class 1A last season, said all of the credit goes to his players.
“The players motivate each other and hold each other to a high standard,” Luna said when asked about the team’s performance during the second half. “We came out, refused to lose and did what was needed to win.”
West Side held a 32-20 rebounding advantage, including 18-12 on the offensive end. The Eagles scored six points off 12 Viola turnovers.
“We changed things from previous games against them and had a good plan, but they are a very good team,” Brown said. “We didn’t take care of the ball at times.”
Rick Luna said it was important to keep changing defenses during the second half.
“We wanted to keep giving them different looks,” Luna said. “Good teams will adjust if you keep doing the same thing all of the time. We felt forcing turnovers was important. Our best offense was our defense.”
Brown credited Viola for forcing his team into turnovers.
“We were not trying to turn it over,” he said when asked about the turnovers during the second half. “Viola played the same press against us in the other games.”
West Side gained the lead 9-8 on Ashton Klepko’s field goal late in the first quarter. Miller made a 3-pointer and on the next trip down the court, he hit a short jumper as the Eagles led 14-8 going into the second quarter.
Viola tied the game at 16-16 with an 8-2 scoring run. The Longhorns held the lead until Miller’s field goal late in the first half put the Eagles ahead, 25-24. Viola scored the final four points and led 28-25 at halftime.
The Longhorns pulled away on a 18-9 third-quarter scoring run and led 46-34 going into the fourth quarter.
Viola started the fourth quarter on a 7-0 scoring and later built its lead to 22 points. West Side showed no quit and pulled to within 15 points before the final buzzer.
Viola 8 20 18 16-62
West Side 14 11 9 13-47
VIOLA (62): Mason Luna 21, Bryson Luna 16, Gage Harris 13, Kenneth Marberry 9, Austin Luna 3.
WEST SIDE GREERS FERRY (47): Malachi Miller 18, Travis Gentry 15, Ashton Klepko 6, Nate Bittle 4, Brenton Knapp 2, Jared Cothren 2.
VIOLA STATISTICS: Kenneth Marberry 1 steal, 1 assist, 1 blocked shot; Bryson Luna 5 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 assist; Gage Harris 1 rebound, 6 2 assists; Mason Luna 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 3 assists; Austin Luna 8 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist; Andrew Cantway 1 rebound.
WEST SIDE GREERS FERRY STATISTICS: Jake Ballard 2 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 assist; Ashton Klepko 3 rebounds, 1 assist; Travis Gentry 5 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 assist, 1 blocked shot; Brenton Knapp 3 rebounds, 1 blocked shot; Malachi Miller 8 rebounds1 assist, 2 blocked shots; Kirby Cothren 1 rebound; Nate Bittle 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 blocked shot; Zack Birmingham 2 rebounds.