HUTCHINSON — If ever there was a moment to encapsulate Collegiate’s run of dominance, it came with six minutes remaining in its 60-36 semifinal victory over Rossville in the Class 3A tournament on Friday night.
“We looked over at about six minutes left and we saw their hands were on their knees,” Collegiate’s Bryce Cornejo said. “We knew we had them.”
You would have never known Rossville’s Mitch and Matt Buhler were two of 3A’s most talented players. The Spartans made them look average, holding them to a pedestrian stat line of 17 points on 5 of 16 shooting and nine turnovers.
“We were keying on them and with our pressure, full-court, every single possession, I’m sure they’ve got to get tired,” Cornejo said.
Rossville was 20-4. Last week, Collegiate hounded second-ranked Douglass out of the tournament. How do they do it? To begin to answer the question, Collegiate coach Mitch Fiegel asks a question in return.
“How would you want to be guarded? Softlyæ.æ.æ. or from baseline-to-baseline for 32 minutes?”
So the Spartans bring waves — in sets of fives — of pressure cascading down on opponents. The full-court press is relentless, the pressure never-ending.
“Last year their pressure didn’t wear us down until the last minutes of the fourth,” Rossville coach Derek Dick said. “Tonight into the second quarter it got to us.”
It started when Rossville had the ball with the score tied at 16 and Collegiate’s full-court pressure induced a five-second call. The next nine minutes were a flurry of blue and yellow.
Collegiate reeled off a 23-4 run, along the way forcing nine turnovers, to take a 39-20 lead in the third quarter. Rossville played the rest of the game wondering what just happened.
Ten Spartans played between 10 and 19 minutes.
At the end, Rossville had turned the ball over 20 times and shot 33 percent in the game.
“We were just focused,” Collegiate’s Raymond Taylor said. “We didn’t let up at all.”
Collegiate will attempt to win back-to-back state titles tonight against Minneapolis at 6 p.m.
“As soon as the last ball bounced last March, this group has had its eyes set on (tonight),” Fiegel said. “We didn’t come here to win a semifinal game.”
Last season, Collegiate struggled to put away Rossville in a 51-48 semifinal victory. So does Friday night show how dominant this team has become?
“I don’t know if we’re that much better than we were last year,” Ty Fiegel said. “We’re just playing a lot better right now.”