Friday night saw the defending state champs get knocked out of contention for this year’s crown.
Here’s what happened Friday in the 1A DII state basketball tournament.
No. 7 Axtell versus No. 4 Hartford girls teams
The Hartford Jaguars players scored in double digits as they beat the Axtell Eagles 53-40 Friday.
Jaguar senior Maisie Schroeder had a double-double, recovering a team-high 11 rebounds and tying for a team-high 14 points. Senior Morgan Bolen also had 14 points and finished with nine rebounds. Sophomore Bailey Darbyshire had 13 points, including going 9 of 10 from the free-throw line.
For Axtell, Senior Trisha Mathewson had game-highs in both points and rebounds, ending with 19 and 12 respectively. Junior Hanna Schmitz had a team-high three assists, also scoring five points.
Hartford head coach Ryan Thomas said he liked how balanced his team played.
“I thought they played great,” Thomas said. “I thought our defense overall for the game was terrific, and that’s a good team coming out of a bad league: And when I say ‘bad’ I mean that’s a good thing, because they are so stacked in that league. They go through the gauntlet every year.”
Thomas said his team probably wasn’t as deep as Axtell, and he told the girls before the game it would come down to toughness and grit.
“At this point, you can only just look (at) a few things, talk about it,” Thomas said.
Both teams committed silly turnovers throughout the game, with lots of balls getting away from players dribbling them or going off legs and out of bounds. Despite their share of them, Thomas said rebounding and defense won his team the game.
“We did a better job taking care of the ball, we had a couple of late turnovers I think which added to our total there, but we’re proud,” Thomas said. “This is a big win for us.”
Hartford moves on and will play at 4 p.m. Saturday for the state title. Axtell will play in the third-place game scheduled for noon Saturday.
No. 1 Almena-Northern Valley versus No. 4 Kiowa-South Barber boys teams
The Almena-Northern Valley Huskies used 17 points from junior Riley Sides and 16 from junior Ross Cole to beat the Kiowa-South Barber Chieftains Friday night by a score of 53-43.
Junior Cole Coggins led the Chieftains with a team-high 16 points. Sophomore Gage Cantrell had a team-high six rebounds to go along with eight points.
Each team ended with 25 rebounds. The Huskies had an extra offensive one but one less on defense. Head coach Chuck Fessenden said it was a slow performance from his team on the offensive glass though.
“We weren’t getting very many offensive rebounds,” Fessenden said. “They did a good job on the defensive boards on their behalf. Because we were close there in the first half to getting some but we didn’t quite get ‘em, so they did a good job.”
The Huskies led 21-17 after the first but got outscored 7-4 in the second quarter. Each team shot just over 42 percent from the field and about 72 percent from the free-throw line.
Fessenden said he told the team at halftime they needed to play defense better.
“(In the) first quarter we didn’t shut ‘em down very well,” Fessenden said. “Second quarter was better but then we weren’t scoring.”
He attributed part of that to the different environment the team is playing in, but also said the team is getting tired more quickly.
“So we’re not shooting as well as we would normally shoot (from) the 3-point line,” Fessenden said. “So I told ‘em yeah we’ve gotta try to attack the basket and get inside.”
Despite the way the team is tiring, he said he doesn’t see that factoring into the team’s final game on Saturday because whoever his team plays will be playing on similar rest.
“They’ve gotta back-to-back too and they’ve gotta play the late game tonight and we don’t,” Fessenden said. “So I don’t think fatigue’ll be a problem, it’s just in the course of the game I think they’re getting tired a little quicker, so I try to sub everybody in the first quarter (and) get ‘em rotated out.”
With the win, the Huskies boys basketball team will play in the State Championship Game at 6:15 p.m. Saturday.
Kiowa-South Barber will play in the third-place game at 2 p.m. that same day.
No. 1 Cunningham versus No. 4 Quinter girls teams
The Quinter Bulldogs overcome the No. 1-seeded Cunningham Wildcats Friday night by a score of 36-22.
They’ll play the Hartford Jaguars at 4 p.m. Saturday for the 1A DII State Championship.
The Wildcats will play for third place at noon.
It was a game full of errors and without a lot of points. The two teams combined for a total of 31 turnovers, but only for 58 total points.
One thing Bulldogs head coach Matt Havlas made clear was that his team won’t “lay down” when they play Saturday.
“We’re gonna come and play hard, we’re gonna defend, we’re gonna rebound, and that’s what I told my girls at halftime,” Havlas said. “We were behind rebounding, and I didn’t see the final stats but we were down by four at half, and I said ‘If you rebound, win this half rebounding, we’re gonna win the game.’”
Cunningham ended up outrebounding Quinter 36-30, but defensively Quinter held Cunningham largely in check throughout the game. They had three more steals (8-5), committed nine fewer turnovers (20-11) and held Cunningham to 8 of 40 shooting, including just 2 of 11 from 3-point territory.
Cunningham was led statistically by senior Kylee Ricke and freshman Maddi Panek. The former had a team-high 10 points, while the later tied Quinter senior Brittney Walt for a game-high 11.
When asked who the statistics wouldn’t give enough credit for the way she helped her team win Friday, Havlas pointed to the team’s leading scorer Friday: Junior Evie Gruenbacher.
She tied Ricke for a game-high 10 points.
“Evie Gruenbacher played (her) best game all year,” Havlas said. “Best game all year coming off the bench.”
Havlas said he has been with this group of seniors since they were in third grade. He didn’t coach them in junior high, but has coached them their whole high-school careers.
“I have four juniors that can play, and they don’t get the amount of time they should because of these seniors, I feel so come comfortable with these seniors on the court,” Havlas said. “Evie Gruenbacher: Great game. Did everything she was supposed to, defended, Evier Gruenbacher played great.”
Senior Abria Fisher was another. She had five points, two rebounds and two assists.
No. 2 McPherson-Elyria Christian versus No. 6 Sharon Springs-Wallace County boys teams
The McPherson-Elyria Christian Eagles beat the Sharon Springs-Wallace County Wildcats, knocking off the defending champs 61-41 Friday night.
After a back-and-forth five minutes that included three lead changes, the Eagles took an 8-6 lead with 3:02 remaining in the first quarter.
It was the last time the lead changed hands in the game.
The Eagles outscored the Wildcats in every quarter Friday night, but never by more than the eight-point margin they had after the first.
Head coach Zach Goodrich said he thought both teams probably felt like they were underdogs going into Friday’s game, but from his perspective he felt like it was unquestionably the Wildcats who were the more established presence at state, having not only won it in 2017 but having been to the tournament for years and counting.
“Give credit to them, they compete hard,” Goodrich said. “For us it was just can we match their intensity. We watched ‘em on Wednesday night and knew that if we didn’t match their intensity it’d be a long night for us.”
Eagles junior Caleb Froese led all scorers with 21 points. Senior Tyler Thiessen and senior Jaden Starburg each had 10 points as well, and Thiessen had a game-high nine rebounds.
The Eagles will play against Almena-Northern Valley for the 1A DII state title starting at 6:15 p.m. Saturday. The Wildcats will play in the third-place game against Kiowa-South Barber starting at 2 p.m.