North Callaway senior boys explode in second half for 63-37 win on Senior Night

By Jeremy Jacob, Sports Editor
Posted 2/8/24

Even in a down year, the North Callaway senior boys haven’t been discouraged.

North Callaway Boys Senior Night Photo Gallery

So a down offensive half on Tuesday at home against …

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North Callaway senior boys explode in second half for 63-37 win on Senior Night


Even in a down year, the North Callaway senior boys haven’t been discouraged.

North Callaway Boys Senior Night Photo Gallery

So a down offensive half on Tuesday at home against Eastern Missouri Conference foe wasn’t going to affect them mentally. On the same night the program held Senior Night, the Thunderbird seniors combined for 46 points and dropped 30 on the Wildcats in the second half to win 63-37, outsourcing Wright City 40-16 in the second half.

Leading scorer Sam Pezold led the way with 21 points, 12 rebounds and four steals, including 19 of those points and all three of his 3-pointers in the second half. Paul Russell followed with a career-high 13 points and four 3-pointers, Isiah Craighead finished with 12 points and six rebounds, and John Brown picked up an assist and steal after appearing in the starting lineup with the aforementioned seniors.

“The message (at halftime) was just to come out and keep firing,” Pezold said. “We were playing good on defense, but shots just weren’t falling. We just had to keep taking good shots on good looks, and nobody was really forcing anything.”

“I knew them pretty well and got to meet some more people,” the first-year high school player Brown said when asked how it felt to be introduced as a starter with the other seniors. “It was great.”

Wright City (10-10, 4-3 EMO) took a 16-11 lead after the first quarter and led for almost six minutes in the second quarter. It was almost six because Russell nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give North Callaway (7-16, 4-4 EMO) a 21-19 lead with 2:19 left until halftime. With about six minutes left in the game, the Thunderbirds stayed determined until they had a 48-30 lead that grew to as much as 24 points.

Craighead said it felt like a “magic night” because he, Pezold and Russell were mostly taking turns scoring as Wright City fell further out of reach. Nobody seemed to be able to miss, including Russell from deep.

“Absolutely,” Russell said when asked if Tuesday was the best his shot has been. “It couldn’t have happened at a better time.”

Head coach Matt Miller said his players know North Callaway has played below its usual expectations so far this season, with Tuesday being only the Thunderbirds’ seventh victory for their least amount since 2016. Still, he said those same seniors that took over the game have never wavered and certainly didn’t when North Callaway clung to a 23-21 lead at halftime.

“That’s what you hopefully expect out of your seniors on Senior Night,” Miller said. “That’s the last time playing in our home gym — we call it the Thunderdome. I couldn’t be more proud of all four of those guys. They deserve it with what they’ve been going through. There have been a few struggles this year throughout the season, but they’ve always been great leaders, keeping their heads up throughout the season.”

Miller said maintaining a positive attitude is important because that trickles down to the rest of the locker room. Shooting can have the same effect since after the senior hit some shots, others like CJ Cunningham and Caleb Sheets hit 3-pointers to keep the noise level high in the Thunderdome.

“Seeing some shots go in gave us some confidence on the offensive end and then it was kind of a party after that,” Miller said, with a laugh.

“It was all of us,” Pezold said. “It wasn’t one person or wasn’t anybody else. It was our night so we stepped up and our guys got it done.”

Miller emphasized a collective effort was necessary on the defensive end. North Callaway’s first-half effort on that end gave the coaching staff and players confidence the offense would follow.

Tuesday was the third time the Thunderbirds held an opponent to under 40 points and the third time in five games. North Callaway has won every one of those under-40 games, and Miller said his players adjusted well to the quickness Wright City brings along with good shooters and strong post Carle’on Jones, who finished with 10 points.

“This was probably the best all year where we rotated out of our zone really well,” Miller said. “We were sprinting to closeouts, we were cutting down the high post and then we finished it with rebounds. It was just five guys that were moving really hard on the defensive end, and that makes a difference.”

Miller said North Callaway hadn’t played with that much defensive intensity all season but was confident his players could maintain the effort in the second half, pointing out that 10 steals and winning 50/50 balls also turned into offense for the Thunderbirds. 

Since the previous day at practice, Miller said the plan was for his seniors to lead the way and was glad they were all able to have fun in their final home game. Pezold, Craighead and Russell all have played for years in the North Callaway program and each agreed that it has meant a lot to them.

“We’re not just a team,” Craighead said. “We’re a family. It was definitely a surreal night.”

“For four years, I couldn’t have asked for better culture here,” Russell said. “It starts with coach Miller. He has been a great role model for us, and he does a great job there.”

“It has meant a lot, especially going from my freshman year,” Pezold said. “We have all grown a lot and have grown closer together. Sharing a special night like this is something we’ll remember forever.”