Keeter Gymnasium on the Campus of the College of the Ozarks was buzzing with excitement. Two familiar foes were set to tip off in the first game of the season after 20 months of seeing empty gyms and very little in the way of game atmosphere. The Evangel Valor visited the College of the Ozarks Bobcats and both teams were anxious to get the season started.
Evangel, with first year coach Bert Capel, came in determined to get things off on the right foot. From the opening tip, it appeared the Valor would have the upper hand. The Bobcats, however, had other plans. Defense seemed to be the dominant theme in the early going as neither team could put points on the board. With 17:29 on the clock, the Bobcats tied the score at three and the teams began trading jabs. A Tanner Rogers basket made the score 10-9, Evangel, with 15:40 left to play. The Valor created a little breathing room and led 14-11 at the 13:17 mark. The Bobcats went cold from the field and Evangel slowly began to pull away. Unable to score over the next five minutes, combined with 14 unanswered Evangel points, the Bobcats found themselves in a hole. A Matt Luebbert three broke the scoring drought with 9:28 to go in the half. Trailing 29-14, the Bobcats began putting points on the board, but they were only keeping pace with the Valor. A Garrett Simmerman free throw made it 40-27 with 4:06 remaining. Slowly the Bobcats began chipping away at the lead. A Kyle Flavin assist to Josh Linehan for a three cut the lead to nine, 46-37 with just under two minutes to go in the half. The final two minutes would go back and forth, and the Bobcats would go into the intermission trailing by 10, 49-39.
The second half started off slow for both teams and they traded early baskets. With five minutes gone in the half, a Tanner Diaz two had once again cut the lead to nine, 54-45. Evangel continued to fight off any challenge by the Bobcats and the teams had played even through the first six minutes of the second half. Evangel capitalized on a couple Bobcat miscues and began to build some momentum. A 7-0 Evangel run made it 64-47 until a Blaine Cline free throw stopped the run. Point by point Evangel continued to build a bigger lead. With 10 minutes remaining they had opened up a 69-49 lead and the Bobcats had work to do if they were going to get back in the game. Josh Linehan hit a three to cut the lead to 73-56 with 7:30 remaining but the Bobcats could not get over the hump. Every Bobcat challenge was met with solid Evangel resistance. With time running out, the Bobcats were not gaining any ground on the Valor and eventually fell, 89-71.
Josh Linehan led the way for the Bobcats with 17 points, followed by Tanner Rogers with 14. Garrett Simmerman chipped in eight, Matt Luebbert - 6, Cooper Long – 6, Blaine Cline - 5, Tanner Diaz, Drew Vachon, and Kyle Flavin each added four. Buck Sanders added three to round out the Bobcat scoring. Blaine Cline also added nine rebounds to the cause.
The Bobcats will hit the road this weekend as they head to the St. Louis for the Missouri Baptist Classic. Friday they will take on Lyon College in a 5:30 PM start. Saturday they will face the host, Missouri Baptist University at 3:00.