If Hartville head coach Brett Reed told his players to run through a wall, they'd run through the wall.
"We trust everything he says," senior Eric Wilson said. "No matter if we agree or disagree, we're following. If he tells us to run through that wall, we're going to try our hardest to run through that wall."
"He's led us to a lot of wins."
The trust, discipline, selflessness and team-first mentality that Reed has instilled in the Hartville boys basketball program is unlike anything any team in the Ozarks has. It was evident in the Eagles' 47-41 upset victory over third-seed Willard on Tuesday afternoon in the Blue Division quarterfinals.
The upset comes after the Eagles graduated the bulk of their roster from their last two seasons in which they won a pair of state championships and Blue and Gold titles. The current roster features just two seniors.
"I think the guys have bought in," Reed said. "People forget that last year, every day in practice, these guys had to guard one of the best teams in the state of Missouri. I think that prepared them and they came in with the right mindset. They're hungry and I've been very pleased with them."
Hartville's win over Willard featured the staples the Eagles program has shown over their historic last two seasons.
In the win, Hartville slowed down the pace and limited Willard's offensive possessions. Some might call it "boring" but there is a beauty to it. Hartville has used it in recent years to beat powerhouse programs like Kickapoo, Nixa and Greenwood.
Reed decided that was the best way to come away with a win before the game when he scouted the Tigers' athleticism. The game plan was quickly apparent when the first quarter ended with both teams tied at six.
Multiple times throughout the game, Hartville played a game of "keep away." In the final minutes, while holding on to a small lead, the Eagles passed the ball around for more than a minute and a half to drain the clock. When sophomore guard Logan Simpson caught the defense napping, he drove to the basket for an easy layup.
"It's actually a lot of fun because you can tell the defense doesn't like it," Wilson said. "They want to get up and start pressing but as long as we take care of the ball, we're going to get good shots, get the score and get back and get a stop."
It's not like that's the only way Hartville has won games in recent years.
The Eagles are capable of putting on a full-court press and creating points off turnovers in the transition game. They have multiple 3-point shooters while also having the size inside to out-toughen their opposition.
"There are just some games where we feel like we're better off in a lower possession game," Reed said. "In a game against Willard, we felt like we were better off in a lower possession game. If we had to guard 60 possessions instead of 40, they're going to have a better chance to beat us."
The most encouraging part of Hartville's current style is that it's only going to improve over the next few seasons. With standout juniors and sophomores, the Eagles already look like a team that's going to challenge and remain in the conversation as one of the area's elite.
Wilson did the majority of the scoring on Tuesday with 17 points and three 3's. Sophomore Grant Culver is an outside threat at 6-foot-4 and junior Brody McNeil is someone who can put up big offensive numbers. Everyone who steps on the floor defends the entire game or else they won't play.
But most importantly, the Eagles have bought into what their coach is saying. With the amount of winning he's led the Hartville program to in recent years, it would be difficult to not be.
"We went undefeated last year and he's earned all of our trust," Wilson said. "He trusts us to get the job done, so we trust him."
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. He's also the co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Blue and Gold 2021: Hartville basketball plays beautiful basketball