Kirkwood advances to district finals, bounces back from late season struggles


Will Huster - Pioneer Photographer

Kirkwood starter Christian Hughes, senior, points at a player before the district semi-final against Poplar Bluff.

After a regular season record of 22 wins and two loses, Coach Sam Briscoe’s Pioneers won their district semi-final matchup against the Poplar Bluff Mules on March 3. The Pioneers defeated the Mules 66-38, advancing to the district final.

The Pioneers opened the season with a 20 game win streak, before two losses going into the final games of the season. The Pioneers rebounded with two wins going into the postseason, something Christian Hughes, senior, said helped to reset their game. 

“We’ve used [losing] to help reset our game defensively,” Hughes said. “We hung our hat on [our defense] for the first 20 wins. We knew we could get it done on offense, but we let up on defense.”

Briscoe agreed with Hughes’ assessment, but also said that he didn’t like to lose games regardless of the context. Hughes said he scored 10 straight points in the paint against the Mules, who continued to add men to guard him. That’s where Kirkwood’s deep bench came into play, Briscoe said. 

“If they’ve got 4 guys on me in the paint, that frees up some of our guys [on the three point line],” Hughes said. “Having those guys on our bench is incredibly [important] to helping us win [against Poplar Bluff].”

Briscoe said Kirkwood was outsized on the post, but their preparation at practice helped them shrink the floor. Despite their defensive success, Briscoe said the Pioneers were a little quick when receiving the ball. 

“We were a little antsy offensively, we took some quick shots and I think we could’ve moved the ball better,” Briscoe said. “We talked about it at halftime and we’ve talked all weekend about doing that, not taking quick ones and getting the right shot.”

Briscoe said the bench players, especially scorers like Tate Drexler and Jack Kocher, helped to build Kirkwood’s advantage. Hughes echoed the same sentiment. 

“[The bench players] have such a good time, they’re over there dancing and cheering,” Hughes said. “That really helps to keep us focused and keep our heads up.” 

Briscoe said the team has taken the season one game at a time. It’s something difficult for High School players to do, Briscoe said, but he believes Kirkwood has what it takes. 

“We’ve talked all season about doing something special with this team,” Briscoe said. “We’ve talked about winning on your home court, winning in-front of your home fans, and how special that would be.”