If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the pictures of the Monroe City Panthers winning the State Quarterfinal game on Saturday captured thousands of emotions as the buzzer sounded. For the first time in two decades, the Panthers obtained the victory to secure their spot in the State Final Four. Panthers took the lead over Central, 43-41. There were tears, laughter, yelling, handshakes and hugs as the Monroe City Panthers celebrated being State Bound.
Head Coach Brock Edris shared, “It was an exciting experience for our kids to travel to Blue Springs for an Elite 8 matchup against Kansas City Central. Central had a very athletic team and we knew that we would have to control the tempo of the game and have one of our best defensive efforts of the season.”
As Monroe City entered the court, their opponent carried a record of averaging over 70 points per game in the playoffs. Coach Edris explained, “Ethan Lehenbauer set the tempo on the first defensive possession of the game by taking a charge and showing the Blue Eagles that we were willing to sacrifice our body to keep them from scoring easily.” Monroe City took six charges throughout the game, remaining strong in their efforts and conquered a seven-point deficit going into the fourth quarter.
Coach Edris stated, “I was so proud of how each player contributed in their own way. Some scored, while others found the open player, and many came off the bench and added a spark of energy defensively. With less than 20 seconds to play, Central’s best player had the ball in his hands while Monroe City was up 2 points. On the possession before he had made a 3-point shot, eight feet behind the 3-point arc. This was going to be the possession that forced overtime, sent us home packing, or punched our ticket to the Final Four.”
As Central attempted their last chance with the ball in their possession, Joshua Talton guarded their best player near half court. The Central players was dribbling, searching for an opening to drive or shoot a 3-point shot. Securing the game with only a few seconds left, the Central player made a crossover move and Joshua tipped the ball away into the backcourt as time expired. Monroe City won the game 43-41, as the crowd went wild cheering and supporting their hometown team.
Leading their team in points was Joshua Talton with 18 points, followed by Bryce Stark with 7 points, Josiah Talton and Kyle Hays both had 5 points each, Dalton McAfee scored 4 points and Antwuan Battle and Logan Buhlig each had 2 points each.
Monroe City now heads to the Final Four for the first time in 25 years. Coach Edris stated, “I couldn’t be more proud of our kids this entire season and for all the teams that have come through our program to help get us to this point.”
Coach Edris spoke of his beginning at Monroe City, stating, “In 2010-11 Monroe City had not won a basketball game. My first year coaching we had only won four games. Now we have won four straight district titles, back to back CCC championships, eight other tournament titles in two years, and now a Class 3 Final Four Appearance,” adding, “I love the opportunity to work with our kids during the last week of the basketball season. I wasn’t sure if we would ever get the opportunity to play at the Final Four and represent Monroe City. Now that we are in the dance, we’re going to make the most of everyday like we have all season and try to put ourselves in the best position to be successful against Charleston. We’re not focused on a championship right now. In our eyes, we have a two-game tournament and the second game is irrelevant if we don’t take care of the first game.”
The Monroe City Panthers will pack their bags and head south to Springfield on Thursday, March12 for the State Final Four. There will be an All-District Pep Assembly held at 1:30 p.m. in the Dan Mudd Gymnasium, with a 1:50 send off, as the Panthers board the bus. The game will be held on Friday, March 13 at 6:20 p.m. against Charleston. Coach Edris stated, “Charleston is very athletic similar to Kansas City Central. We will have to be very disciplined with the basketball to handle their pressure and we will have to be solid defensively because they send many players to the offensive glass and can score extremely well in transition.”