As one three after another after another after another splashed through the net for the Fredonia boys at the start of Wednesday’s Class 3A quarterfinal, one thought crept into the mind of Garden Plain senior Alex Becker.
Let’s just say, it wasn’t a good one.
His next thought, however, put him and the Owls in a better frame of mind.
“They came out and hit us in the mouth,” Becker said after Fredonia nailed four three-pointers in the game’s first three-plus minutes. “We’ve been in that situation before, though. It’s not easy, but at the same time it’s not hard because we have such great chemistry and that helps us keep our composure.”
Despite falling behind 17-4 midway through the first period, Garden Plain kept its poise and kept itself from being run out of the Hutchinson Sports Arena. The Owls slowly chipped away in the first half and then blew Fredonia away in the second half, storming to a 71-49 runaway win that seemed incomprehensible in the game’s opening minutes.
In Friday’s 8:15 p.m. semifinal, Garden Plain (20-4) will face No. 2 seed Sabetha (23-1), which knocked off defending champion Scott City 43-40 in overtime. The loss ended a 12-game winning streak for the Beavers in Hutchinson, a string that saw them win four state titles.
If Garden Plain was rattled by Fredonia’s early onslaught it didn’t show. Owls coach Lee Gillen called one timeout during the surge and even then, he never saw the need to calm his team down, already seeing the composure in their eyes.
“We knew they shot the ball extremely well and they came out and showed that,” Gillen said. “We’ve been in that situation before and we just had to grind it out and not panic, and I don’t think we did. We just did better at breaking their press, better at getting shots and better at making them take tougher shots.”
Gillen never abandoned the zone defense he employs and eventually the open looks Fredonia got early got tougher and more contested as the Owls extended the defense. After making four of their first five three-point attempts, the Yellow Jackets finished 7 of 17 from beyond the arc for the game.
Garden Plain still had to shake off its early offensive woes (2 of 8 start from the field, four turnovers). After getting within 17-9 by the end of the first, the Owls cut the deficit to 27-22 by halftime.
When Becker opened the second half with a three-pointer, it jump-started the Owls. Becker gave the Owls their first lead at 31-30 on a three-point play and after Isaac Ostrosky answered for Fredonia, Becker scored inside and Alex Mannebach buried a three-pointer for a six-point Garden Plain lead.
Fredonia got as close as two, but an 8-0 run to end a 24-9 third-period edge for the Owls opened up the gap and Garden Plain made 17 of 24 free throws in the fourth quarter to win going away.
Becker led four Owls in double figures with 19 points while Nathan Pauly added 15 (8 of 10 free throws in fourth), Mannebach had 12 (four three-pointers) and Luke Heimerman had 10.
Fredonia (21-2) got 23 points and eight rebounds from Ostrosky, who buried three three-pointers in the opening surge, but made just 2 of 8 the rest of the way.