The Cunningham Wildcats girls basketball team finished third in the 1A DII State Basketball tournament, beating the Axtell Eagles 46-42 Saturday.
Cunningham freshman Morgan Meyers had a game-high 21 points, a game-high five assists and a team-high six rebounds. Senior Kylee Ricke had 11 points for the Wildcats.
Sophomore Olivia Kuckelman tied senior Trisha Mathewson for a team-high three assists while ending with a team-high 12 points for the Eagles. Mathewson finished with a team-high seven rebounds.
“I don’t know how good winning the whole thing must feel, because this feels really good,” Cunningham head coach Eric Meyers said.
Meyers said it felt good to end the season with a win, even if it wasn’t a championship. He hasn’t been there the whole time, he said, but it’s been a while for the Wildcats.
“Only two teams can finish with a win,” Meyers said. “(We) sent our senior out with a win, this is the best overall record a Cunningham team’s ever had, not the best finish: We got second 30 years ago, but awful proud of it and I hope there’s not another 30-year drought.”
Going into next year, the team will lose Ricke, who has been one of the steadier players on the team. She played all 32 minutes for the team on Saturday.
“We’re gonna miss the heck outta her next year,” Meyers said. “We’ll be a little bit different team, but she meant a lot to this basketball team.”
Meyers said there has always been a player to help pick up the team at different points this season. Even Friday, when the team lost, some of the girls had good games he said, the team just wasn’t able to score very well.
“This feels great,” Meyers said. “We’re thrilled.”
The Eagles led after 12-5 after the first. A quick basket by the Wildcats cut the lead to 12-7. After that, Morgan Meyers scored the next seven points to give the Wildcats a 14-12 lead with 6:25 left in the second quarter.
“We came out of that huddle in the second quarter, she said ‘I gotta do something,” Eric Meyers said. “We were a little stagnant, and it was shaping to be a game a lot like (Friday’s loss to Quinter) and I thought ‘Oh I can’t have two of those in a row.’ But she jumpstarted us for sure.”
The Wildcats took a 34-27 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Eagles battled back, cutting the lead to 43-40 with about 30.2 seconds left, at which point they called a timeout.
Cunningham made their free throws though, with Morgan Meyers hitting the last four for her team. She hit 11 of 15 from the line Saturday. Her team hit 17 of 25, good for a team rate of 68 percent.
“We’ve been an excellent free-throw shooting team all year, especially in the last six to eight games,” Eric Meyers said. “I’m not saying we shot it brilliantly at the free-throw line down the stretch, but I felt good about it. We had the kind of lead that I thought if we made one out of two and denied the 3-point shot, mathematics would work in our favor.”
That didn’t mean he always felt fully comfortable in the final minutes.
“It did get a little scary, I will admit that, at the end,” He said. “But we have a pretty composed team most of the time. I’ve seen it in their eyes. They played together for a lot of years and I think they just trusted in each other and it worked out.”