The Wichita Heights Falcons prevailed over the Leavenworth Pioneers Thursday in each team’s first game of the 2018 Tournament of Champions.
The Falcons won by a final score of 56-45.
Early on, the Falcons looked like they were in trouble.
The Pioneers came out and opened up a 15-2 lead through the first seven minutes or so of play until the Falcons got their second shot to fall with 2:28 left in the first quarter.
“What a start,” Wichita Heights head coach Joe Auer said. “We’re 8-1 coming in, our largest deficit, I think we were down six one time this year. I’m thinking this is a great experience for us. We can’t play any worse, they’re playing great, so this is a chance for us to find out what we’re made of.”
The Falcons got outscored 15-8 in the first quarter, but the last six ended up being part of a 9-0 run that lasted nearly an entire quarter. With 5:18 left, they tied the score at 15-15. A couple of minutes later they took the lead at 18-16.
They never relinquished it.
“I was really proud of the kids for handling that,” Auer said. “This is our first road-trip of the year. We loaded up, drove out here three hours, really excited to be here, but man it was like our minds were only to Pratt, the rest of the body hadn’t made it to Dodge City yet. So it was a great win for us to bounce back.”
Junior Izaiah Hale and junior Jaden Okon each had team-highs of 13 points for the Falcons. Leavenworth senior Kevin Payne had a game-high 14 points in the loss.
“Once we were able to make buckets, we were able to apply pressure, and pressure wore (the Pioneers) out,” Auer said. “I thought that was a big difference. They got tired and we were able to dictate the tempo.”
That tempo was important too, because Leavenworth appeared to have a size advantage, which Wichita Heights countered with speed.
“We’re not that big, we’re just fast,” Auer said. “We’re fast and we’re skilled and if we can get you sped up, we can limit you to one shot, then we can get run-outs and we’re pretty good.”
Taking away Payne’s 3-pointers was also key.
“For them, you take away Payne’s 3-ball, which really wasn’t in the scouting-report,” Auer said. “We did a great job on it. We covered them really well, he kept them in the game. I mean that kid was phenomenal.”
With the win, Leavenworth moves on to face Hays at 2 p.m. Friday. Hays beat Manhattan earlier Thursday behind a performance that included 12 team-pointers for the team. Hays is coached by Rick Keltner, who has been at Hays for 33 years.
“We better cover the 3,” Auer said. “I’ve never seen a team shoot that many 3’s in my life. We’re gonna be prepared to guard the 3-ball. If we aren’t, we’re gonna get beat. Period. Bottom line, so tomorrow at practice we’re gonna work on that. We don’t play anybody that does that. Rick’s got four guys running to the 3-point line every possession. So we’ve gotta cover that.”