By David Kvidahl | STLhighschoolsports.com
COLUMBIA, MO. • Daniel Farris missed his final free throw.
For four years, Farris turned pressure-packed moments into exhibitions of cool. Never rattled. Never flustered. The kid they call “Peanut” sealed countless games at the free-throw line.
A senior point guard for the Vashon boys basketball team, Farris' final attempt of his career rattled off the rim and fell out.
It was the only part of his day that wasn't perfect.
Vashon defended its championship with an efficient 44-32 victory over Bolivar in the Class 4 title game Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
The No. 1 small school in the STLhighschoolsports.com rankings, Vashon (27-3) has won back-to-back championships for the third time program history. It's the 10th state championship for the Wolverines, who had three additional titles stripped by the Missouri State High School Activities Association for use of ineligible players.
Even for a program that has as much history and tradition as any in the state, this title was special to Vashon because of its core of seniors who were the backbone of four consecutive state semifinal berths — the first two at now-defunct Madison Prep, the latter two at Vashon.
Farris, Levi Stockard, Casey Cody-Jackson, Darren Huntley and Tromon Weston ended their careers with four state medals and as two-time champions.
“We're going to enjoy it right now. To know their career here with us is coming to an end, today, it kind of makes you a little emotional. There's no other way to finish it,” coach Tony Irons said. “Every senior around the country wants to finish their last game as a champion. These guys have had an opportunity to do that.”
All that stood between Vashon and that sweet victory was Bolivar (27-5), a team that hadn't played for a championship since 1960. The Liberators rode into the title game behind the outstanding play of senior point guard Conley Garrison and senior post Brandon Emmert. Bolivar made its hay off that duo.
“We knew they were going to be a handful. They play how they want the game to go very well,” Irons said. “If we can kind of control how many threes they made it was going to be really, really key.”
Bolivar worked the ball in its halfcourt sets, stayed patient and eventually got the shots it wanted. They just didn't fall. Against Parkway Central in Thursday's semifinal, the Liberators couldn't miss. Against Vashon they couldn't hit.
“We got good looks. We took the shots we were supposed to take," Bolivar coach Robby Hoegh said. “They just didn't quite fall.”
The misses turned into transition points for the Wolverines. Farris converted several layups. And even if Vashon missed, it was there to clean up. Vashon out-rebounded Bolivar 32-15.
Vashon senior guard Koray Gilbert didn't know it at the time but he won the game at the midpoint of the second quarter. Gilbert buried the only two 3-pointers he took and extended Vashon's lead to 18-8. The Wolverines outscored the Liberators 11-2 in the second period and led 20-10 at halftime. Bolivar never threatened again in part because it couldn't get the ball. Vashon came out in the third quarter and was content to run the clock to draw Bolivar out of its zone. The Wolverines played keepaway for nearly four minutes in the third quarter as Farris directed traffic.
“That was something we weren't expecting,” Hoegh said.
Vashon has employed a stall for stretches against St. Mary's in the sectional and Sikeston in the quarterfinal. Irons didn't expect to play that card for as long as he did Saturday, but it worked.
“I knew they'd kind of pack it in on Levi a little bit and dare us to shoot it,” Irons said. “I don't think I expected to take as much time off as I did in the third quarter, but that's a testament to our guys. They really executed and ran our stuff.”
Stockard, a 6-foot-8 forward who has signed with Kansas State, was sensational on defense against Emmert, a burly 6-foot-6 old-school post. Active hands and great rotations by Vashon gave Bolivar fits and starts in its halfcourt offense. Emmert had 18 points. Garrison had 12. They were the only two that scored until Hunter Jones hit a pair of free throws in the final minute.
“I knew coming in I'd have to play a lot of defense today,” Stockard said. “I just knew I had to do it to win.”
Farris scored 16 points to go with three rebounds and two assists. He only had one steal, but it came after Stockard lunged for a loose ball, missed it and Emmert appeared to have an open layup. Farris read it all the way, slipped over, ripped the ball out clean and was off the other way for a transition opportunity.
With his time in a Vashon uniform now done, Farris will go on to play at the next level. Where remains a mystery. He has a slew of Division II offers. Eastern Illinois is his only Division I offer. No matter where he lands, that coach and team will have itself a leader, a floor general and, most of all, a winner.
“He's a guy in any situation it doesn't faze him. He's been through almost everything from his freshman year to his senior year,” Irons said. “He's worked his butt off to get to this point. Once they evaluate the type of kid he is and how humble and hard working he is, they're going to get a special player.”