Try as he might, Matt Richardson couldn’t keep his eyes from welling up.
The tears never trickled down the Hesston coach’s face, but who would have blamed Richardson if they did?
Winning a Class 3A state title last year was special for the Swather coach and his team. Winning it again on Saturday in the last game he and his daughters Caylee and Cami would take the court together, well the moment was simply overwhelming.
“It’s special,” Richardson said, his voice cracking before words then eluded him.
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The performance spoke for him. Hesston blitzed Cimarron with a 10-3 start and let its lockdown defense do the rest as the Swathers won the battle of 3A unbeatens 54-40 at Hutchinson’s Sports Arena.
The win not only gave the Swathers their second straight title, but also capped a 26-0 season. Cimarron finished 25-1.
“When you’re No. 1 like we were all season, everybody’s trying to knock you off,” Caylee Richardson said. “That’s what everyone wants to do.… But we weren’t going to let that happen. We wanted to do this again.”
For Cimarron to end Hesston’s reign, the Bluejays were going to have to bottle the shooting display they put on during the second half of Friday’s semifinal win over Silver Lake. Cimarron connected on 63.2 percent of its shots in that half, getting production across the board and not just from standout Morgan Ediger.
And when Marlee Rath knocked down a three-pointer to give the Bluejays a 3-2 lead, well, things looked good. Moments later, however, it looked completely different.
Hesston answered with eight straight points, four from Kelsey Unruh, and defensively got the Bluejays out of sync. Cimarron turned it over four times and missed four straight shots.
“We just didn’t run the first half, and I don’t know what the deal was,” Cimarron coach David Ediger said. “We told the girls (Hesston) would start the game on a little bit of a run, having been here last year. I didn’t ever feel like the girls were wide-eyed about what was going on, but we couldn’t get the ball in the basket.”
More often than not, when it didn’t go in, Hesston didn’t give Cimarron another crack at it. The Bluejays had three offensive rebounds and finished with only 11 overall. Caylee Richardson had 14 by herself, 12 on the defensive end.
With Caylee controlling the boards, younger sister Cami took care of the scoring. Entering the title game in a bit of an offensive slump with 10 points in the first two wins, the junior broke out with 18 points in the title game.
She connected on back-to-back three-pointers early in the third quarter that proved to be huge. After trailing 25-17 at halftime, Cimarron got a three-pointer from Rath to open the second half and cut the lead to five.
But Richardson hit from the top of the key on two straight trips to restore a double digit lead and the Bluejays got only as close as seventh after that.
“It felt good to finally hit some shots,” said Richardson, who made 4 of 8 and was 8 of 10 at the free-throw line. “We just really focused on our defense tonight though. That’s where it had to start.”
The defense did its part, holding the Bluejays to 31.6 percent shooting. Ediger scored 12, but was 4 of 15 from the floor.
“We’re long and our kids are seasoned kids,” Matt Richardson said. “It was tough for them to get into a flow.”
Unruh added 12 points and Caylee Richardson, a senior, had 14 points to go with her 14 rebounds.