That squad won one game that season; last year it was eight.
This season, Verona has amassed a 6-2 record and advanced to the finals of the Walnut Grove Tournament with a 59-47 victory over Fordland Thursday night.
"The boys have really bought into what we are trying to accomplish with our program," said Stewart. "We have some explosive scorers and guys who are starting to step up and play with confidence."
Verona entered the tournament with the second seed and will face top seed Fair Play, who defeated fourth seeded Ash Grove 57-53 earlier in the evening.
Verona's Wesley Kissinger picked up three fouls in the first two and a half minutes of the game. Dalton Miller provided a lift off the bench as the Wildcats battled Fordland to a 12-12 tie at the end of the first period.
In the second period, Cody Ernsberger and Nick Washam combined to provide the Wildcats a 17-2 run to open the period. Verona used a deadly full court press to force 11 Fordland turnovers. The Eagles turned the ball over 19 times durning the contest.
The Wildcats took a comfortable 31-19 advantage into the locker room at half time.
|Fordland would prove to be a pesky foe as they refuse to fade into the December night. The Eagles used their size to pound the paint and get to the line in the third period. Verona was cold from the floor only managing five points in the period.||The Eagles, scored 15 points in the quarter, including a huge 3-pointer by Kyle Beemer with seven second left in the frame to trim the lead to 36-34.|
Stewart told his squad that they "needed to stop playing 'me' ball and start playing 'team' ball" and that "me ball" had caused them to squander their once commanding lead.
Fordland drew first blood in the final period, tying the game at 36-36 just 11 second in on a Jacob Keltner layup. The Eagles took their first lead of the game at the 5:34 mark at 40-39 only to see Verona erase it 18 seconds later on a Seth Losack 10 foot floater in the lane.
Two Washam free throws and a Kissinger layup gave the Wildcats a 47-42 cushion with 2:16 remaining in the contest. A fifth foul was then called on an Eagle player who argued the call with the official leading to a technical foul levied against Fordland. Verona made the Eagles pay where it hurt the most, on the scoreboard with 4 additional points.
"I was really proud of the way the boys battled in the final period," said Stewart. "We have to come out tomorrow and do it again."
Scoring for Verona were: Kissinger, 14; Ernsberger, 13; Washam, 11; Tomas Estrada, 9; Miller, 5; and Losack, 4.
On Tuesday, Verona walloped Marionville 57-35 to advance to the semi-finals of the Walnut Grove Tournament.
Kissinger collected his 1,000 career point.
The Wildcats led 15-7 after one quarter of play and 25-9 at halftime.
Scorers for Verona were: Kissinger, 22; Ernsberger, 20; Miller, 6; Washam, 5; and Losack and Stanley, 2.