With 0.6 seconds left in the third quarter, Andale inbounded the ball to its top scorer, and despite the outcome, he said he didn’t know what he was going to do with it.
Easton Hunter turned and heaved a three-quarter court shot at the buzzer and looked away. He didn’t think the heave had a chance. But it did. The shot gave the Indians a double-digit lead going into the fourth quarter of their eventual 60-50 win at Rose Hill, further expanding their lead atop AV-CTL IV.
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After Hunter let go of the ball, he turned toward the bench – ready for coach Jeff Buchanan’s final-quarter instructions in what seemed to be a contested finale. His teammates went crazy.
“I didn’t even know it went in,” Hunter said.
The home gym went silent while the ball was in the air, and Hunter’s face went static after his teammates started to rush him. He slowly raised his hand and held up three fingers.
“You go into a fourth quarter up double-digits, it makes a big difference,” Buchanan said. “As opposed to it being eight, it’s 11. It’s huge.”
The bucket was even more impressive given the bruises the shooter wore coming in. Hunter was Andale’s backup quarterback, third-leading rusher and played safety. He, like a lot of the Indians, came into the Rose Hill gym still trying to heal from football season, Buchanan said before the game.
Hunter had a bulky ankle brace and knee strap after injuries he suffered in Andale’s push to the Class 4A championship game Nov. 25.
Still, Andale is one of two undefeated teams left in the Wichita area at 8-0 and boasts one of the best defenses in the state. Before giving up 50 to the Rockets, Andale allowed only 37.4 points per game.
Rose Hill coach Josh Shirley said the zone matchups are what makes the Indians so tough.
“It is very hard to prepare for,” Shirley said. “You can search for offenses against it all you want. They’re so big, physical, and you get one shot. And once you shoot, you gotta make sure that shot is a great shot.”
Rose Hill (6-3) has lost two straight after launching to its best start in 10 years. Koby Campbell, the Rockets’ leading scorer, relies heavily on penetration into the paint, Shirley said, but he struggled early.
He warmed up in the second half, but he and the rest of the Rockets fought with turnovers and points on the other end, particularly behind the three-point line.
During warmups, three Andale shooters made three-pointers at the same time. The balls got caught in the net. It was an indicator of what the Rockets would see after tipoff.
Buchanan said as long as his players are shooting like they did, coupled with the team’s competitive “no offseason” mentality, they will be in a good spot. The win gives Andale a 1 1/2-game lead atop AV-CTL IV with 8-1 McPherson next on the schedule.
Buchanan said with a target on their backs, healthy or not, they will be ready.
“You can say they’re banged up, that’s all right; that means they’re out there competing,” he said. “I’ll take five guys on the court or 20 guys on the team that know how to compete.
“I don’t care if it’s competing on a golf course. I don’t care if it’s competing on a football field. I don’t care if it’s track or baseball. When guys know how to compete, it translates over to winning big games.”