North junior Darren Lewis is 6-foot-2, and as he says, a “good 265 pounds.” His challenge in Thursday’s Class 6A sub-state semifinal against visiting South was to somehow slow the Titans’ bruisers — 6-6 senior Jordan Moore and 6-8 senior Hunter Rogers.
Lewis, who primarily comes off the bench, was thrust into a starting role when seniors Gage Loy and John Bogle were ejected in North’s regular season finale on Feb. 27. Due to a City League rule, Loy and Bogle were automatically suspended for the next game.
“It was a lot of pressure on me,” Lewis said. “I don’t want to let down the seniors. I’ve been thinking about it all week in and week out. I just knew I need to go in there and box out and rebound really good.”
Lewis had eight rebounds and four fourth-quarter points as North beat South 63-56. North (11-10) will play at Garden City (13-8) at 7 p.m. Saturday with a chance to return to the 6A tournament for the third straight year.
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“We needed him to fill Gage’s role, and he did real good,” said senior Zach Beard, who had 21 points. He scored eight fourth-quarter points and hit 3 of 3 threes in the first period.
North senior Sean Bernard also was strong inside, as usual, scoring 12 and grabbing six rebounds.
“Darren did a great job,” North coach Gary Squires said. “We told him before the game he’s got to step up, and he did. We got it inside to him. And Sean, he’s a warrior. He comes to play every night.”
North’s win came in its old gym because of a concert scheduled to take place in the new gym, which opened before the season.
It was a special victory for North, which relied heavily on scoring sensation Conner Frankamp to get to the 6A tournament the past two seasons.
“It means a lot to us and the guys,” Beard said. “Last year we made it to state, we had Conner. This proves we can play.”
“People criticized us about Conner, saying we wouldn’t be anything without him. This is a big step for us in going to state. We’ve got one more to take care of.”
North hit 5 of 5 three-pointers in the first quarter — Beard hit three, while Tristyn Villa had two — as it raced to a 20-8 lead.
South pounded the ball inside to Moore, who came off the bench, and Rogers in the second and third quarters. All of South’s eight field goals in the second period came inside.
Moore, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds, was 6 of 6 from the field in those periods, while Rogers scored all eight of his points in the same span.
But after South took a 40-38 lead heading into the final period by hitting 14 of 23 shots over the previous 16 minutes, the Titans were 5 of 18 in the fourth.
“We spread them out and our guys got to the rim and made free throws,” Squires said.
North was 15 of 20 from the free-throw line in the fourth, and 23 of 32 for the game. Tarius Williams made 11 of 12 free throws in the second half and finished with 13 points.
“As good as the game was, I think it was 32-11 on free throws,” said South coach Chuck Gunter, whose team made 9 of 11 free throws. “That’s hard to overcome. I don’t care how good your team is.”
For South, finishing 9-12 was a major improvement. The Titans won 15 combined games over the past six seasons. Gunter is the Titans’ eighth coach in the last nine seasons.
“I could be satisfied with (the improvement),” Gunter said. “But I expected more. Some of the kids never played under high expectations before.”
South: Griffin 11, Lee 7, Rogers 8, Brown 4, Gunter 4, Moore 17, Hudspeth 3, Harris 2.
North: Williams 13, Lewis 4, Bernard 12, Villa 8, Beard 21, Cotton 3, Sanders 2.
North's War Cry
North senior Zach Beard
North junior Darren Lewis
North coach Gary Squires