Most of the standing-room-only crowd that was shoe-horned into the Park Hill South High School gymnasium Friday night came to see William Chrisman Division I signees Justin Clark and Jon Ekey and the Panthers’ sensational Ivo Baltic.

Most of the standing-room-only crowd that was shoe-horned into the Park Hill South High School gymnasium Friday night came to see William Chrisman Division I signees Justin Clark and Jon Ekey and the Panthers’ sensational Ivo Baltic.
That trio of standouts left a thumbprint on the Suburban Big Six contest, but it was a couple of unknown commodities – unknown outside of the Chrisman locker room, that is – that helped the Bears claim a share of the top spot in the conference as Korey Stucker and Bobby Byrom each played big roles in Chrisman’s 60-55 victory.
Baltic, the 6-foot-8 power forward, scored a game-high 25 points, and Clark led his team with 16, but a sensational second half by Stucker and Byrom helped the Bears improve to 12-9 overall and tie the Panthers, Oak Park and Truman atop the conference leaderboard with a 4-2 record.
“We don’t win tonight without Bobby, Korey and the rest of the guys,” said Clark, who didn’t score a second-half point until the 1:22 mark of the fourth quarter.
Then, with the game in balance, he hit 7-of-8 free throws to ice the biggest road victory this season.
“I was at the line late, and that’s where I want to be, but we’re not in a position to win that game without Bobby – who hit some big free throws, too – and Korey, who did it all.”
Stucker scored six of the Bears’ 12 points in the third quarter to help Chrisman take a slim 40-37 lead into the fourth quarter, and Byrom hit both ends of two one-and-ones in the fourth quarter and finished with 12 points to share center stage with their marquee teammates.
“We were talking before the game about how we were going to need a team effort to win this game,” Bears coach John Vickers said. “And the guys in our second shift really came through. Everyone one of them did something great.”
The Bears play a run ‘n gun style that allows Vickers to change five players from the bench to the court every two minutes. Stucker and Byrom are part of that second shift.
So are Josh Yakovitz – who came up with a big steal with just 1:33 left in the game and the Bears leading 50-47 – and Nathan Martin, who helped wipe out an early Panthers’ lead with his lone 3-pointer of the game and who hammered the final nail in the Panthers’ coffin by hitting two free throws with nine seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“The way we have to make pressure free throws in practice, or run sprints, that was nothing,” joked Martin, who has always been rock-solid from the line. “I knew it was basically over if I hit those free throws, so I made sure I made them.”
The Bears were 21 of 27 from the line, including 15-of-18 in the fourth quarter.
“We’re all pretty good free throw shooters,” said Byrom, who was 6-of-8 from the charity stripe. “If a team wants to put us at the line, well, we feel pretty confident there. We didn’t do a lot offensively tonight, so it was important to make the most of our free throws.”
The game was a nail biter from the opening tip as the Bears never led by more than five.
“We knew it was going to be close,” Clark said. “That’s why we’ve been working so hard on our free throws at practice. Free throws are easy points, and they put us on the line a lot tonight.”
Clark, Byrom and Martin accounted for the Bears’ final 12 points at the line.
With 1:22 left in the fourth quarter, Clark and Ekey combined for just four points.
“If someone would have told me we would have won this game with Jon and Justin scoring just four points (until that point in the game), I don’t think I would have believed them,” Vickers said. “That just shows you how this team has come together. Korey has had some big games for us – so has Bobby.
“The kids came up here knowing they could win. We beat these guys at our place, and I know they were gunning for us. I can’t thank our fans enough. I think we had about as many fans from Chrisman as they had. And with the game on the line, our guys really came through big.”
Stucker (please see column) finished with 13 points, and each one of them came in the decisive second half.
Ekey, who fouled out late in the game after battling Baltic much of the night, finished with two steals, four blocks and seven points.
Zach Dyer scored 20 and Garrett Ogle added 19, but it wasn’t enough as the Bears dropped the junior varsity game 76-69.