For a while, it looked like Andale’s boys were going to cruise. Then it seemed like the Indians were doomed.
It was a strange quarterfinal game at the Class 4A basketball tournament, but Andale left the Bicentennial Center with a 54-52 victory over Kansas City Piper that players won’t soon forget.
“This feels really good right now,” Andale senior Gerad Deaver said. “It gives us quite a bit of momentum.”
Come-from-behind victories usually do. What made this game thrilling, though, was that it looked like Piper was going to be the team fighting from behind in the first quarter. Andale scored the first nine points, forcing Piper to call a timeout and regroup.
But regroup they did. Piper led 13-11 at the end of the first quarter, 25-19 at the half and 50-43 with the clock ticking down in the fourth quarter.
The Indians needed a furious rally in the final four minutes, but they got it when Boo Knoblauch hit a three-pointer and Deaver got going inside to spark an 11-2 run that won them the game.
“It’s a team that has been building,” Andale coach Jeff Buchanan said. “This group has constantly gotten better each and every game this year. It goes back to when these guys were part of the group suiting up at state two years ago. They learned. These guys got it done. When we lost the lead in the first quarter it was the same thing. They learned from it.”
The main thing they learned was to remain determined. After Knoblauch’s three, Jason Hermreck hit a driving layup to cut the score to 50-49 and Deaver scored a put-back layup to give Andale a 51-50 lead.
Piper answered back with a driving layup from Calvin Johnson with about one minute remaining, but Deaver made two free throws to give Andale up for good with 42 seconds to go.
“I just blocked out the pressure and focused on the rim,” Deaver said. “I haven’t been doing good on free throws lately. Coach just told me to slow down so I slowed down.”
When the final buzzer sounded, Andale players poured on the court to celebrate a victory that moved them to Friday’s semifinals against unbeaten Ottawa.
Deaver said he was proud of his teammates for “buckling down” with the game on the line. Buchanan thought it was the type of moment that can propel his team to even bigger things.
“It has to,” Buchanan said. “It gives you anytime you can overcome that first-round game it is going to be big. First round at state is tough. You’re getting used to the atmosphere and some of the kids have never been here before. It’s a different atmosphere and a different style of game. I think they learned from it and will give us a boost going into a game with a very good Ottawa team.”
Highland Park 65, Winfield 49 — As satisfying as it was for Winfield coach Troy Lallemand watch the Vikings challenge Highland Park throughout the first half, he knew the biggest challenge was still to come.
“They are the No. 1 team in the state,” Lallemand said. “They are undefeated. We told them right before we took the floor in the second half, ‘They are going to make a push.’ They are going to come out with a little bit more intensity.”
Winfield couldn’t match it. Highland Park surged ahead 52-36 in the third quarter and controlled the game from there.
Will Adler scored 17 points to give Winfield a chance, while Jonathan Mays scored 11 points and Tucker Hoover chipped in 10 points. They helped Winfield have a successful season and finish with a 14-10 record. Highland Park was too strong in the first round of the state tournament, but Lallemand was proud of what his team accomplished.
“This was our best season we have had in a while,” he said. “We had 14 wins. We beat Andale, who is in the final four. We went through Collegiate, we saw Trinity, all these teams. We have only had 11 winning seasons in the last 41 years of basketball. This group was trying to put us on the map a little bit. That was our goal. Their goal was to get to Salina. They did a great job getting here.”
Ottawa 76, Anderson County 44 — Semi Ojeleye broke another state scoring record Wednesday. The Ottawa senior, and Duke signee, passed Steve Cadue for the most points in a single season. He has 880 points on the year with 32 of them coming during an easy victory over Anderson County.
It was obvious he was in for a big day when he scored the first points of the game with a transition dunk.
“It’s absolutely amazing the things he does,” Ottawa coach Jon McKowen said.
Ojeleye remained humble when he learned he set a record. Though he was proud of the achievement, he is focusing solely on winning his first state championship this week.
“I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” Ojeleye said. “Everything is happening so fast. After the season I will be able to sit down and enjoy it.”