By CONOR NICHOLL
Hoxie and TMP boys a combined 17-2 in close games this season; they face for a third time Saturday in 2A Ellis sub-state title game;
St. John girls, paced by 6-foot-1 Lydia Reed, upset No. 1 Little River in 1A-I
ELLIS – Hoxie boys opened the season with a six-point loss to Norton on Dec. 2. In the next three months, the Indians have had a remarkable run of winning close games. Hoxie is 11-1 in games decided by six points or fewer. That includes five wins decided by one point and/or in overtime.
After the Norton defeat, Hoxie is 19-3 following another buzzer-beating 45-43 win Thursday night in the Class 2A Ellis sub-state semifinals. The Indians trailed the entire second and third quarter with the lead usually oscillating between three and six points. Coach Jared Dowell kept preaching Hill City’s small lead was “a tie game.”
“That’s not enough,” he said. “That’s not enough separation for either one of us teams. If we would have had the lead at that time, I would have been nervous. I would have actually considered us being behind.”
Senior Brady Jones, the team’s veteran outside shooter, came off a ball screen and sank a trey for a two-point advantage and Hoxie’s first lead since the opening quarter. Hoxie led 42-40 with just over two minutes remaining.
Hill City eventually tied the game before Jones was fouled on an off-balanced trey with less than a second left. He made two of three free throws and Hoxie won 45-43. Hoxie defeated Hill City by five in December.
Hoxie 6-foot-4, 190-pound senior Miles Baalman came back from a severely rolled and subsequent swollen ankle suffered against Ellis on Feb. 27, the first basketball injury of his career. He didn’t practice the last two days, and Hoxie was uncertain if he was going to Thursday.
Baalman showed up Thursday, and the Indians had to catch him up in the locker room. He delivered 17 points.
Senior Dominick Jones completed the third quarter with eight points, seven rebounds and four assists, though missed nearly all the fourth because of foul trouble.
“I was shocked tonight how mobile he was on it,” Dowell said. “I was crossing my fingers. It’s his senior game. He was going to come out here, but I didn’t know what we’d get out of him. And I felt like we got 75 percent Miles.”
Earlier, Thomas More Prep-Marian rallied from an early 13-2 deficit to cruise past Atwood-Rawlins County, 62-41. The Monarchs improved to 20-2 and won its 19th straight game.
Like Hoxie, TMP is 6-0 in games decided by five points or fewer. The Monarchs have three buzzer-beating shots from senior Kade Harris. One came against Hoxie in a 48-46 win on Jan. 16, the Indians’ lone close loss this winter. Hoxie had a 10-point lead. As well, TMP beat Hoxie, 46-29, on Jan. 10 in a Mid-Continent League play contest.
“These guys have not got rattled, and we have finished almost all of them, except for a really close buzzer-beater against TMP,” Dowell said.
On Saturday, No. 2-ranked TMP (20-2) will play Hoxie (19-4) in the Class 2A Ellis sub-state championship game. Start time is 5:30 p.m. The third matchup between the Monarchs and Indians is part of a statewide trend.
“It’s tough, because (against Hoxie), we have beat them a couple of times,” TMP coach Bill Meagher said. “But I think that has its own sort of stress, and its own sort of problems. Sometimes a team that doesn’t know you so well and doesn’t understand what you are trying to do is easier to go against. But that’s the thing about being in the MCL was teams are so good that it doesn’t surprise me that sitting at the end of this tournament is MCL teams.”
Many sub-state semifinal or championship games, contested Friday and Saturday, involve teams playing each for a third or fourth time. In some cases, the previous matchups came down to the wire.
This includes Independence and Labette County girls in 4A, St. John and Central Plains girls in 1A-I, Quinter and St. Francis girls in 1A-1, and Maize South versus Andover Central boys in 5A.
This is partially because KSHSAA has geographic sub-states in 1A-3A and many of the leagues play each other at least twice during the regular season and meet up again in sub-states. Hoxie played just three non-MCL teams this winter.
“I would prefer getting to see a lot different,” Dowell said. “And especially people outside your league. … But it is what it is. We are real happy with where we have been this year.”
Dowell said playing a team two or three times “a lot easier” to prepare for. Hoxie played Oakley thrice and WaKeeney-Trego twice.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t scout Hill City that much like I would have if it was somebody else,” Dowell said. “…Because you get a really good feel, you watch a little bit of them and realize certain coaches out there don’t get too far away from their plan that they have ran all year long or in the past years. And so we knew exactly what we needed to do against Hill City. I don’t think we executed our defense near what we wanted to.”
Meagher has led the Monarchs to three final fours, including the last two winters in 3A. Two seasons ago, the Monarchs defeated Minneapolis in the sub-state title game, the first time TMP faced the Lions that year. Last winter, TMP required three wins against league rival Norton, including the Goodland sub-state title game.
“I feel like we have done so well finishing games, close games, taking care of what we need to do,” Dowell said. “But that is TMP’s M.O., in my opinion. … Just resilient. They are so versatile. I love their 5, their 4, and then shooting guards. I mean, what more would you want?”
For rematches, Meagher said he studies the past games “not very much.” He focuses more on the recent tapes to see what teams run and adapted to.
“Really tough,” Meagher said of last year. “Because I think the tendency is not to change anything, because you won twice. You are always going to learn something every game and you have got to fight that tendency, so that’s the hard part – is you know there is some things you can do better or differently or try. But then you go, ‘OK, we beat you with what we did last time, so maybe we should stick.’”
“So I think that’s the hardest part is just looking at it with fresh eyes, being a fresh game, teams have grown as the season has gone on,” he added. “And really making a game plan somewhat from scratch with what’s it’s in front of you.”
On Thursday against Atwood, the Monarchs received a career-high 21 points from senior Kade Harris, a Shrine Bowler in football and highly experienced basketball player. Harris continually keyed the transition game, a major part of TMP’s success.
“We have been so fortunate at TMP to have bigs that can run the floor,” Meagher said. “And it makes such a big difference in transition, and so we have put a ton of emphasis on that. Sometimes our bodies aren’t as big as the bodies that we are playing, because we are not always as big, but we feel like our transition game can give us some of that advantage.”
As well, seniors Dylan Werth and Luke Rome each posted double-doubles against Atwood. Werth has exceeded 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in his career. The Monarchs try to have at least a third of their points in the transition.
“We try to make every single game a transition,” Meagher said. “Our goal is to get the ball to the guy in front, and then we want our bigs to run straight down the middle, continue to attack.”
Werth is around 17 points per game, Harris around 12. Rome has more than nine points and eight rebounds a contest and has sometimes led the Monarchs in scoring. Meagher called another 20-win season “awesome” after graduating five seniors.
Griffin Schumacher and Landon Rozean have been among key players, too. Meagher has been pleased with the team, including those who come in before school or shoot at home. TMP has improved its shooting as the year has gone on. Plus, the Monarchs have really good practice/reserve players.
“This has been one of our better practice groups,” Meagher said. “And I think that when we get in there, we have actually shortened minutes, which has helped us keep legs, because they practice pretty efficiently, and that has helped us a lot. But there is a lot of guys that have done a lot of stuff on their own outside of our stuff.”
Notable matchups, upsets, rematches (Roughly half of the sub-state championship games are set)
6A girls: Shawnee Mission South (21-0) vs. Shawnee Mission West (11-10) – Likely the state’s best team against the state’s top recruit with SM West’s S’Mya Nichols, a Kansas commit. Both are in the Sunflower League. South, which features Camryn Smith, possibly the state’s best junior, defeated West, 46-43, on Jan. 6. That is tied for South’s closest margin this season.
6A girls: Olathe Northwest (13-8) against Olathe North (13-8) – Olathe North won 56-47 on Feb. 24.
5A boys: Highland Park (21-0) against St. James Academy (14-7) – Upset potential. SJA has played a much harder strength of schedule. Two of the state’s best players: SJA’s Brian Hawthorne and Highland Park’s Bo Aldridge. This is the second meeting between the teams in the last 12-plus years. SJA won 67-59 on March, 3, 2021. HP is ranked first in 5A, St. James is tenth.
5A boys: Who will break through? Basehor-Linwood (8-13) and KC Sumner Academy (12-9) both pulled upsets and will face in a sub-state game. Sumner has not made state since 2014.
5A boys: Maize South (18-3) against Andover Central (17-4) – This is the third meeting between the teams. Maize South won 46-40 in the season opener. The Mavericks also won 51-49 on Feb. 10.
4A boys: Can Atchison (18-4) break through against Topeka Hayden (11-10)? – This is the first matchup between the schools since 2008
4A girls: Wamego (20-1) against Bishop Miege (12-9) – Wamego has been ranked No. 1 in 4A and features two Division I softball signings – who are also very good basketball players. Miege has won back-to-back 4A titles. At worst, these are the two of the top-four teams in 4A and meeting in the sub-state championship game.
4A girls: Independence (17-4) against Labette County (10-11) – This is the fourth matchup between the teams. Independence won 38-22 on Dec. 13, and 44-30 on Jan. 17. Independence also won 54-36 on Feb. 3 between the two SEK rivals.
3A girls: Eureka (20-2) against Neodesha (18-4) – Eureka defeated Neodesha, 54-40, on Feb. 3.
3A boys: Colby (18-3) against Holcomb (12-9) – Friday’s semifinals marks the third meeting between the teams this season. Colby, a big turnaround this winter, is looking for its second state appearance since 2008. Colby beat Holcomb, 50-46, on Jan. 5, and 57-43 on Jan. 27.
3A girls: Goodland (22-0) against Cimarron (19-3) in sub-state title – Goodland is the defending 3A state champion. Cimarron has McKayla Miller, a Creighton commit. Goodland has the state’s longest current winning streak, all classes at 34 straight. Goodland beat Cimarron, 51-29, on Jan. 6. This marks the fourth time in four years the teams have played.
3A girls: Cheney (20-2) against Hesston (17-5) in sub-state title – Cheney defeated Hesston, 42-38, on Jan. 3.
3A girls UPSET: Riley County defeated top seeded Atchison County, 39-36. Senior-laden ACCHS finishes at 20-2. Riley County improved to 14-7, and will face 20-2 Nemaha Central in the sub-state championship game.
3A girls: Silver Lake (20-1) against Rossville (16-6) in sub-state title – The War on 24 rivals know each other very well. SL beat Rossville, 63-50, on Jan. 3, and 76-61 on Feb. 10.
Top players out of 2A boys: Could the top-three players in 2A boys not make the state tournament? Ellinwood was the top seed in the Sterling sub-state but lost to Sterling in sub-state for the fourth consecutive year. While their are a lot of good players in the class these three have certainly highlighted all year and the last several.
Brit Dutton, a 2,000-point scorer, ends his incredible career. Hillsboro lost Monday after it won the last two state titles. Brekyn Ratzlaff is the reigning 2A player of the year and Hillsboro’s all-time leading scorer. St. Marys’ Keller Hurla will face 21-1 Lyndon in the sub-state title game in what should be a thriller. Hurla was also Top 11 in football and SIK’s 1A POY in football.
1A-1 Girls: Jetmore-Hodgeman County (18-3) vs. South Gray (15-6) – This is the third matchup between the teams. HC won back-to-back games, 54-45 and 62-47, on Jan. 28 and Jan. 31.
UPSET 1A-1 Girls: St. John defeated top-ranked Little River, 43-38, in the semifinals. LR had defeated Central Plains late in the regular season. In a matchup of two defending state champions, Central Plains beat Pretty Prairie 48-46. CP has won or posted an undefeated season every year since 2014. PP is the defending Class 1A, Division I champion.
St. John (15-7) has won six in a row. The Tigers feature 6-foot-1 sophomore Lydia Reed, who was a talent SIK became aware of in the fall and has done well in volleyball, cross country and track. Reed had a big game in the LR victory. St. John has longtime head coach Danny Smith and assistant Trish Wade, mom of NBA player Dean Wade. SJ has typically won with defense this season.
St. John and Central Plains will play for a fourth time. CP won 45-35 on Dec. 13, 44-32 on Jan. 20, and 50-33 on Feb. 3. SJ and CP are longtime rivals and normally meet 3-4 times a year. SJ has won 28 in the series.
1A-I Girls: Centralia (13-9) against Doniphan West (15-5) – This is the third matchup between the Twin Valley League foes. DW won 60-35 on Jan. 10, and 50-41 four days later.
1A-I Girls: Quinter (19-3) against St. Francis (18-3) – SF held off Oberlin, 39-35. The two Northwest Kansas League rivals will meet up in the sub-state title game Saturday. Quinter’s Anna Briggs cleared 1,000 career points Thursday.
1A-II Girls: Golden Plains (19-3) against Wallace County (15-6) – GP is third and second at state the last two seasons. This is the third matchup this season. GP won 43-23 on Dec. 10, and 42-34 on Feb. 21.
1A-II Girls: Beloit-St. John’s/Tipton (18-4) against Thunder Ridge (13-9) – The Northern Plains League rivals match up for the second time. BSJT won 58-34 on Jan. 31.