The Verona Wildcats made it look easy at Marionville on Monday as they rolled to a 64-41 victory over Ash Grove in the first round of district play. The second seed in Class 2, District 11, the Wildcats advanced to the semifinals for a Thursday matchup with Billings.
The Pirates drew first blood in the game, scoring on their first possession, but their only lead of the game would last just a matter of seconds. An immediate answer came in the form of a three-pointer by senior Anthony Martinez.
From there, the Wildcats continued to build the lead with relative ease, and the Pirates would not score again in the quarter.
Leading 13-2 after one period and 27-14 at the half, Verona was not content to play with the lead they already accumulated and turned it up in the third quarter. The Wildcats scored seemingly at will, putting up 26 points in the third in a balanced scoring effort, led by senior Caleb Hillhouse. With one period to go, the second-seeded team led 53-26.
With just under five minutes to go in the game, Verona extended the lead to 30 points, at which point Coach Brad Stewart called a timeout to sub out his starters, to the applause of the visiting fans.
The second string picked up where its leaders left off, seeing out the win by a score of 64-41.
At the final buzzer, Hillhouse led the offense with 24 points, followed by 15 by freshman Jaiden Carrasquillo. Martinez added seven points, while seniors Eddie Gutierrez and Austin Valdez finished with five each. Kolton Pinkly scored four, and Chris Werner and Jorge Lara contributed two each.
Verona (22-5) would go on to play an all-Wildcats matchup against Billings (16-11) on Thursday after games were pushed back a day due to inclement weather on Tuesday. Billings was responsible for two of Verona's five losses this season, as Verona fell 72-69 in an early tournament game and 57-52 in January.
See next week's sports section to find out if Stewart's team could earn vindication and advance to the district championship game.