The Harrisburg Bulldogs entered Friday’s Class 2 boys’ basketball championship in uncharted territory. The school, with an enrollment of 182, had never finished better than fourth place in the state tournament.
The fans from the small town about 25 miles northwest of Columbia packed into Mizzou Arena. They transformed their side into a sea of red.
Some students decided to dress up special for the event. One student wore a giant red sombrero, while another in the front had on a kilt. Many were adorned with face paint, and all of them were standing and screaming throughout the contest.
They wouldn’t be disappointed.
Harrisburg won its first state championship Friday by beating Marionville, the defending state champs, 41-38.
The game was extremely physical though few fouls were called. Players collided with each other, scrambling after loose balls. Many players on Marionville also started on its football team — the team that finished as runner-up in the 2005 title game.
Tied at the half, the Bulldogs worked to send the basketball team to a similar fate.
Battling sickness and a leg injury from earlier in the tournament, senior Kyle Fisher carried the team. He darted around defenders, knocking down shots with hands flailing in his face. He needed 24 points to reach 2000 for his career, but finished just short with 20.
“I was about 80 percent today because of the sickness, but the leg injury wasn’t affecting me very much after the first quarter,” Fisher explained. “I’d rather score 2 and win state than score 40 and lose.”
Some of the biggest shots in his career came when Harrisburg led 39-38 with 10.8 seconds to play. Having missed his previous free throw, Fisher was determined not to miss again. Stepping up to the line, he wiped the sweat from his eyes, looked toward the hoop and knocked them down as if they didn’t mean a thing.
“Guys look to me to make free throws” Fisher said. “When I missed the first one, I said I wasn’t going to miss them again.”
The royal blue-clad Comets fans’ nerves became apparent as some massaged their temples while others clasped their hands as if praying for a last-second miracle.
Marionville was able to move the ball back up the court and got off a shot, but the shot from a crowd of players never had a chance.
The raucous Bulldogs crowd, which had been on its feet for most of the last quarter, went berserk. Fans hugged each other, jumped up and down, and waved anything red around in the air.
Players, with looks of pure jubilation on their faces, danced and swung each other around in the air. While ecstatically receiving their medals, parents and fans beamed with pride.
“Harrisburg has a great passion for basketball,” coach Steve Combs said. “It’s been a dream of our community for years.”
When asked how they planned to celebrate the team’s victory, Fisher said, “It’s spring break next week, so the town will probably shut down with the celebrating. The seniors — we’re going to Disney World.”