HUTCHINSON — One Collegiate basketball player quietly snuck out of the Hutchinson Sports Arena. One half-heartedly engaged in conversations with relatives waiting in the lobby. Another sat on the steps down the hall toward the locker room hanging his head.
All looked unsure about how to handle a loss at the Class 3A tournament — because it had never happened to them before. After winning the last two 3A titles and three of the last four, the Spartans fell to Scott City 62-59 in Friday's semifinals.
"I think, as a coach, you evaluate your teams based on whether or not they reached their potential as a team," Collegiate coach Mitch Fiegel said. "There's nothing... one loss is not going to change my opinion of this team. This just happened to be a loss that came at an inopportune time."
Scott City presented a challenge unlike the Spartans had seen this season because the Beavers were just as athletic. They weren't as deep, but that inferiority was masked by the presence of senior guard Ron Baker, Scott City's most electric player and the one who causes the opposition the most trouble.
Baker wasn't his best shooting, making 4 of 11 shots. But he led all players with nine rebounds and carried the Beavers in the fourth, when they had one basket as Collegiate fouled often. Baker made 8 of 9 from the line in the final quarter and finished with 20 points.
"It's a whole group of good athletes with one superior athlete that you just have to pay so much attention to," Fiegel said. "(Baker) makes everybody around him so, so good and that's the sign of a great player."
Scott City never buckled, making 14 of 19 free throws in the fourth. The Beavers committed seven turnovers in the second half after making three in the first, but they were steady when it mattered most.
"First thing we put down as they keys to the game was, "Attack pressure with pressure,' " Scott City coach Glenn O'Neil said. "We've been the team that's attacking. We didn't want to back off and be satisfied with breaking their pressure, we wanted to score off of it."
Having a player dominate scoring and ball-handling has never been Collegiate's style. With a 10-man rotation, their scoring is balanced. That may have hindered the Spartans late when, after cutting a double-digit deficit to one possession, there was no clear go-to player.
Terrence Phox made a late three-pointer to make it 59-56 with 25 seconds to go; Kevin Richardson hit a three with six seconds left, and Trace Clark helped Collegiate rally in the third, scoring six points.
"I never felt like we were missing a key ingredient," Fiegel said. "I thought that we got an awful lot out of this group."