SALINA – Topeka Hayden junior Marcus Meier was a thorn in El Dorado’s side from the opening possession of the Class 4A-Division I boys semifinal game on Friday.
So it was only fitting in the final seconds of a tie game, Meier grabbed the rebound that gave him a shot to win the game.
Meier, a 6-foot-4 center, was fouled on a putback attempt with 2.9 seconds remaining. Already the owner of clutch free throws in two games this season, Meier sank two more to lift Hayden to a 50-48 and a spot in Saturday’s championship game.
Hayden (14-10) will play No. 1 seed McPherson, which held off Paola 59-56 in overtime for its 22nd victory in 23 games. The Wildcats will attempt to win their eighth state title and first since 2008, while McPherson will go for its 12th.
El Dorado (14-10), third behind McPherson and Winfield in Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division III, will play Paola at 2 p.m. Saturday for third place.
Meier finished with a game-high 32 points, including Hayden’s first 20. He had four three-point plays in the first half, and a chance for a fifth was negated when he had blood on his shorts and briefly exited the game.
“It’s always great to come out and hit your first shots,” Meier said. “It gave us some momentum early in the game and gave me confidence.”
El Dorado countered Meier’s first-half dominance with five three-pointers. Even after Meier scored the final points of the half on a follow shot, El Dorado led 33-28.
“I was so disappointed at the end of the first quarter to give up 20 points in a quarter,” Hayden coach Ted Schuler said. “It reminded me of December, when we were giving up 66 points a game.
“I think we were acting like scoring was going to be easy like last night (in an 82-74 win over Independence). I knew we’d have to get some defensive stops and defensive rebounds to get back into the game.”
Hayden, which also got 10 points from guard Jacob Head, limited El Dorado to 15 second-half points. Travis House led El Dorado with 12 points, but hit just 3 of 8 field-goal attempts.
“Yeah, they held us to 15 points in the second half,” said El Dorado coach Gary Melcher, who was trying to lead his Wildcats back to a championship game for the first time since 1999. “But it didn’t really matter how many points we needed to score. We were having too tough of a time clearing a defensive rebound to get the job done.”
Hayden led 42-39 after three quarters, and pushed the lead to six points before El Dorado countered with a 7-0 run to lead 46-45 with 3:24 to play. El Dorado’s Johnstone Scott, who scored 10 points, missed two free throws with 1:09 to play, and Hayden decided to play for one shot.
“I have to credit my assistant coaches for encouraging me to make that decision,” Schuler said.
Head attempted to break the 48-48 tie on a baseline drive. The shot caromed in front of the rim, right into Meier’s hands. He was fouled hard trying to take the ball back up.
“I was confident in Marcus,” Head said of his teammate going to the line. “Marcus, Brogan (Heinen), it doesn’t matter. I’ve got confidence in all of them.”
After Meier hit the free throws, El Dorado called timeout to set up a play. Wes Haines caught the inbounds pass and launched a half-court shot that was on line, but short.
McPherson 59, Paola 56, OT – Kyler Kinnamon’s three-point play with 27 seconds remaining gave McPherson its final lead, and Andrew Pyle blocked a potential game-winning shot by Paola’s Chase Jorgensen that allowed the Bullpups to escape.
Peter Horton finished with 22 points for McPherson and Kinnamon, who added a late free throw, had 13. Sophomores Mason McDow (18) and Lucas Wilson (16) combined for 34 points for Paola, which traded the lead with the Bullpups 10 times.
“I knew one of the Hortons was scoring tonight, but I never know which one,” said McPherson coach Kurt Kinnamon, referring to twins Peter and Ryan. “So, thank you, Peter.”
The Bullpups survived a hard-fought battle in which 49 fouls were called. After Kinnamon hit a left-handed shot in the lane and was fouled to put McPherson ahead for good, Pyle blocked Jorgensen’s three-point attempt from the baseline.
A loose ball scramble ensued under the goal, and McPherson owned the possession arrow on a held ball. Kinnamon was fouled and sank one of two free throws for the final margin.