MOBERLY — Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School was rattled.
The Trailblazers were down 13 points with three minutes left in the second quarter Saturday. Canton High School junior Gabe McKenzie had just thrown down a rim-rattling fast-break dunk that lit a fire in the Canton crowd while the Tolton fans sat silently.
Tolton coach Tyler Clark called a timeout to rally his troops. He knew the game was on the verge of getting out of hand. This would be the biggest test the Trailblazers faced all season.
But this was not a test Tolton could pass.
Tolton (20-8) lost to Canton (27-1) 72-66 in Class 2 state quarterfinals, one game away from qualifying for state.
“We got ourselves in a big hole and we couldn’t get out,” Clark said. “But I’m proud of our guys. We learned a lot from this and we’ll be back.”
It wasn’t a pretty start. Canton had Tolton on its heels for most of the first half. The Tigers out-rebounded the Trailblazers 16-9 in the first. Most of the rebounds resulted in put-back layups for Canton.
Canton was getting out in transition ahead of Tolton and playing a more physical game than Tolton was used to playing. Clark thought the Tigers were grabbing most the of the loose balls and getting on the floor more than his team was.
Michael Porter Jr., Tolton’s leading scorer who is averaging 29 points a game, ended the first half with seven points. The freshman star finished with 24 points.
“My shots weren’t falling,” Porter said. “But I had to keep going.”
Junior guard Ryan Chappell played his best game of the playoffs. He added 13 points for the Trailblazers. Forward Josh Boyer tacked on another 18.
Canton guard Tyler Niemann led all scorers with 31 points. McKenzie scored 20 for the Tigers.
Tolton clawed back within seven points of the Tigers halfway through the third quarter. Canton head coach Andy Anderson called a timeout to stem a possible comeback. His team responded, putting the Trailblazers back down 12 points at the end of the third quarter.
The Trailblazers made another run at Canton in the fourth quarter. With 4:30 left to play, Porter hit his first 3-pointer of the game. Just a few seconds layer, Brennan Church dropped in a layup to pull Tolton within six.
With 26 seconds remaining, Porter lined up a three from eight feet inside of half court and drained it. Tolton was within five points, 68-63.
After a pair of Canton free throws, Porter hit another three to bring the score to 70-66. But Porter’s next three point attempt was blocked.
Tolton never gave up, but time was not on its side. Canton made its free throws, going 21-28 from the line, and sealed the game despite a 31-point fourth quarter from Tolton.
Canton has won 24 games in a row.
“We didn’t fight back like we usually do, and when we did start to fight back it was too late,” Porter said.
Tolton put together a historic season. In only their second year with a varsity team, the Trailblazers won 20 games and claimed the school’s first district championship in any sport. And all of that was accomplished without any seniors.
“We’re all coming back next year. We have another chance. This isn’t our last shot at this,” Boyer said. “We’re going to remember this game next year.”
Porter agreed with Boyer.
“We’ll go further next year,” Porter said.
After the game, Clark was the last person to leave the Tolton locker room. His tie was loose and crooked, his voice horse.
“It hurts really bad right now,” Clark said. “But one game doesn’t define our season.”
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.