The win was also vindication for Howell senior guard Matthew Simmons, senior forward Patrick Schulte and senior point guard Daylan Dalton.
Howell’s previous loss to McCluer North in the Troy Tournament championship game in November had Simmons and Schulte both dialed in to excel against the Stars in the quarterfinals. Both were previously unavailable for the first game in November.
This time, the Vikings were not to be denied. Schulte went off for a game-high of 22 points. Simmons followed with a tallied 13 points.
“It was special because my teammates kept getting me the ball and they knew I was hot, so they kept feeding me the ball,” Schulte said. “This time it was my turn, and I’m just happy to help the team get the win.”
Simmons and Schulte worked on both defense and rebounding as the duo, along with junior Matt Schark, combined efforts for 19 of Howell’s 31 rebounds.
“We were more hyped up to play against McCluer North because they took the Troy with championship away from us, with Patrick and I gone,” Simmons said. “Defensively, we knew we needed to stop them on fast breaks and we did what we did on offense, we’d be in good shape.”
With Dalton clicking 14 points and seven assists, juniors Sam Thompson and Matt Schark rounded out the Vikings’ balanced performance with 13 and 11 points.
Over the course of the season, Howell [28-2] has emphasized unselfishness and playing for each other over individual glory.
“They play for each other and they will do whatever it takes just to be successful as a team,” Francis Howell coach Kurt Jacob said. “Nobody cares who gets the points or the stats, they just want the win…These guys really care about each other on and off the floor.”
Last season, the Vikings had their playoff run derailed by Class 5 runner up Chaminade in the sectional round. The experience left Dalton, Simmons, Schulte and the rest of the Vikings with the goal to push further ahead in 2019’s postseason. It has been a special season for the group, who entered the year feeling very confident about things happening on the court.
“It’s special,” Dalton said. “It’s a special group of guys. Everybody is different and we’ve got different pieces to the puzzle and we told ourselves at the beginning of the season that this our year and it’s going to be a good year,” Dalton said.
Jacob credited the players with being able to break through to the state tournament barrier.
“The players deserve the credit…they earned everything they’ve done so far,” Jacob said. “They won the Joplin Tournament, won the conference, won our district and now we’re going down to Springfield [for state].”
Howell will go for its first-ever state championship berth in a Class 5 semifinal against Christian Brothers College High [CBC] on Friday, March 15 at the John Q. Hammons Student Center, located on the campus of Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo.
The Vikings are slated for two more games this weekend.
“This is our first time being in the Final Four, but we didn’t come this far and play this whole season just to be in the Final Four,” Simmons said. “We want to win the state championship, and that’s the thing that’s been in our minds since day one.”