Andover community rallies around Jaguars after winning state championship
A new class
What felt like the entire city of Andover circled around junior Xavier Bell.
He put his hands over his face, smiled and shouted, “A-C.” Those around him chanted back, “H-S,” for the now-defending Class 5A state champion — Andover Central. The Jaguars beat Basehor-Linwood 58-47 on Saturday night to secure their first boys basketball title in school history.
“This means the world to me,” Bell said. “This group of guys I get to share the court with, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. We’ve grinded this whole season, and if anybody deserves it, it’s obviously us.
“I’m going to remember everything about this group from the talks and jokes we have in the locker room before games to the celebrations after games — even to the tough losses we had this year — I love this group of guys.”
Class 5A was deemed one of Kansas’ deepest classifications in 2019. Andover Central, Basehor-Linwood and others created a wealth of potential state champions.
But after years of failure, falling for three straight years in the state semifinals to Bishop Miege and McPherson in Class 4, the Jaguars proved worthy, senior Easton Leedom said.
“When they threw me the ball, and I ran it out, I looked into the student section, and I saw my coach jump up,” he said. “And that’s when it hit me. I thought, ‘Man, we really just won it.’ “
Andover Central jumped on the Bobcats early. Basehor-Linwood won a draining state semifinal over Bishop Carroll fewer than 24 hours earlier, and though the Cats didn’t start strong in that game either, there wouldn’t be a surprise when they mounted a comeback.
The Jaguars held Basehor-Linwood to 12 points in the first half. They flew around defensively and forced the Bobcats to shoot 4 of 24 from the floor and 1 of 15 from three-point range.
Although Andover Central wasn’t its usual offensive showcase in the first half either, the Jags flipped the switch, coach Jesse Herrmann said. The Jaguars have seen their share of state tournament basketball. Leedom played in his 12th state game Saturday.
Strength of schedule wasn’t a data point among the teams in the 5A tournament, but Herrmann said having played the likes of Maize South, Campus, Wichita Southeast and Olathe North, they had to have been up there.
“I’ve seen a lot of former players here and talked with them,” he said. “It’s so special to see them here because those are the guys who know how hard this is. Some of them were right at the doorstep. So a lot of things come flooding back when you get one of these.”
In the second half, Basehor-Linwood found open pockets but didn’t hit as it had Friday. The Bobcats finished below 32 percent shooting. Coach Mike McBride said he didn’t believe his group would still be exhausted coming into the title game, but knew they had to “sell out” to reach Saturday unscathed.
“I was hoping it wouldn’t effect us, but we had so many open shots in the second half and just didn’t hit any,” McBride said. “I think you’ve got to assume that’s just having no legs.”
After the game, the Bobcats sat on their bench with their arms around one another. Throughout the game, they helped up their own who had fallen and even those wearing Andover Central uniforms.
McBride said his group of five seniors, including Jacob Coleman, who finished with a team-high 15 points, have represented the school and community well.
“They were incredibly loyal,” he said. “They did what they needed to off the court. Their GPA was high. They’re all going to college. They did it right in every way. They are role models for our program — unbelievable.”
Herrmann said the same about his group.
The 2019 Andover Central team has been building for four years. Leedom and senior Braden Belt, who finished with a game-high 20 points, earned playing time as freshmen. Although they struggled, they reached the state semifinals and gained valuable experiences along the way.
The Jaguars picked up a third scoring option a year later in Bell, who added 16 on Saturday. Together, Leedom, Belt and Bell became one of the most dominant trios in Kansas high school basketball, all averaging more than 16 points per game.
They all eclipsed 1,000 career points this season and capped it with school history. Belt, who is normally calm and composed, said it was a year and an achievement he will share with those he believes he will be friends with forever.
“It’s going to be cool to come back and visit and see the plaque when you walk in the school,” Belt said. “It’s going to be cool to see that and say, ‘Wow, that was us.’ “
Kody Kasselman said the emotions finally came out Saturday.
Garden Plain won its second straight girls basketball state championship with a 47-40 win over Sterling in Hays. The Owls’ coach after a year of hard-working, cold-blooded faces, they lit up when the final buzzer went off.
“They were the hardest group the read emotionally,” Kasselman said. “They never got too high or too low. They just always had that look of - I don’t even know. They just always seemed to go get it done. They never got sucked into the moment too much; they just stayed in it.”
After Friday’s semifinal win over Wabaunsee, Kasselman said Sterling was the last team in the field he wanted to play. The Black Bears were scrappy, full of grit, and Garden Plain had already played them once.
Dec. 13, the Owls beat Sterling 56-48. Kasselman said he knew it wasn’t going to be the same team. The Black Bears lost only once since then, and it came to Class 1A champion Central Plains.
Although the championship game’s final score indicated it was much of the same, it wasn’t.
Sterling cut the Garden Plain lead to 40-38 with 2:13 to play and 43-40 with 40 seconds to go. But senior Lauren Danahy, as she has all season, stepped up when the Owls needed a momentum bucket, picking up where last year’s All-Metro selection Taylor Joplin left off.
Holding onto that three-point lead, Sterling send Danahy to the free throw line for four shots. She drilled all four and finished 9-of-11 from the line.
Danahy hit the game-tying three-pointer to send the state semifinal to overtime Friday night.
“Dan was the man,” Kasselman said. “She just put us on her back and said, ‘Let’s go.’ It’s probably the most rewarding thing as a coach. She led her own way. She’s not going to yell at people. She’s going to lead by example, and she’s each of her teammates’ biggest fan, and she went out with a bang.”
Garden Plain finished the season 21-4 with a pair of losses to Class 4A Rose Hill, 3A Trinity Academy and 3A runner-up and rival Cheney. The Owls were undefeated against 2A talent.
Although Garden Plain finished strong, the Owls hit a lull toward the midseason tournament in Haven. They went 2-2 from Jan. 8-24 and were bounced in the first round of the Wildcat Classic.
“It seemed like we were getting everybody’s best game,” Kasselman said.
Saturday wasn’t the Owls’ best game offensively, but they locked down on the other end. Sterling finished 0-for-11 from three-point range and shot just 32.6 percent from the floor.
Sterling senior Debra Schmidt finished with a team-high 13 points, and junior Kinzie Comley added a dozen. But it wasn’t enough.
Danahy finished with a game-high 15, and junior Abby Gordon had 10 points and five assists.
Kasselman said the third quarter was the biggest obstacle. Sterling outscored the Owls 12-4 in the third. Kasselman said they couldn’t buy a bucket.
“We were dead tired, and the kids just sucked it up,” he said. “I guarantee you they will be in bed sleeping well. They are a tough group.”
Saturday marked Garden Plain’s fifth girls basketball title. The Owls have now won two state championships this school year, adding to their Class 3A volleyball title won in the fall.
Kasselman said though the 2019 group won’t be remembered for its emotional play on the court, it showed its class in victory.
“It was bottled up, and they had a good time in the locker room afterward,” he said. “I paid the price with a highly wet shirt when I walked in there.
“They were a good group, a fun group. They’re winners.”
The only overtime
Cheney fell to history Saturday.
In the only championship game decided in overtime, the Cardinals lost to Royal Valley 55-52. It was Royal Valley’s first state championship in school history.
Royal Valley sophomore Mahpiya Irving hit a three-pointer with 27 seconds to go after Cheney senior Destinee O’Shea drilled a pair of free throws to tie the score at 52.
Cheney couldn’t find another answer.
“We cried,” Cheney coach Rod Scheer told The Hutchinson News. “I’m telling you, good group of kids. I told them you are gonna face obstacles in life. When a rough patch in your life comes up, look back to this and say: ‘I know what to do.’”
Royal Valley’s clutch three-pointer came from nowhere. The Panthers were 5-of-21 from three-point range. Cheney wasn’t much better at 5-for-14.
But the Cardinals’ defense was solid through two and a half quarters, leading 31-19 with 6:20 left in the third.
In the fourth quarter, things started to fade. Cheney went 5-of-9 from the free throw line, and Royal Valley didn’t miss from the stripe. The Panthers won the quarter 14-7 to send it to overtime. Momentum was on their side.
Cheney sophomore Kylee Scheer led the way for the Cardinals with 15 points. Senior Layne Needham added 14.
A step behind
Augusta fell short in its state championship game Saturday but made school history just getting there.
The Orioles lost 86-53 to Kansas City Piper in the Class 4A final. It was their third state championship game appearance since 2002.
Piper played an outstanding game Saturday in Salina. The Pirates finished with five players in double-digits, including brothers Tyrone and Tamar Bates who had 21 and 20 respectively.
Piper shot 60.7 percent from the floor and 43.8 percent from three-point range. Augusta was far behind at 34 percent from the floor.
Piper finished with a 2:1 assist-turnover ratio. Augusta was almost 1:3 in that category.
Augusta junior Jaren Jackson led the way for the Orioles with 20 points, and Zach Davidson nearly had a double-double with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Piper had three 20-point quarters, including 30 in the fourth. Augusta never had more than 16 in a quarter, and its final bucket came with 3:30 to go.
Class 6A Boys: Wichita Southeast 77, Shawnee Mission South 66
Class 6A Girls: Derby 71, Olathe Northwest 40
Class 5A Boys: Maize 68, Bishop Carroll 49
Class 5A Girls: Schlagle 60, McPherson 54
Class 4A Boys: Trinity Academy 56, Chapman 43
Class 4A Girls: Baldwin 52, Nickerson 37
Class 3A Boys: Perry-Lecompton 57, Hays TMP Prep 49
Class 3A Girls: Norton 36, Nemaha Central 33
Class 2A Boys: Inman 60, St. Mary’s Colgan 56 (OT)
Class 2A Girls: Wabaunsee 49, Trego 36
Class 1A Boys: Osborne 49, Caldwell 44
Class 1A Girls: Thunder Ridge 54, Waverly 44