By CONOR NICHOLL
WaKEENEY – Thomas More Prep-Marian led Hill City by eight with 5 minutes, 49 seconds left in the third quarter when standout 6-foot-7 senior post Dylan Werth picked up his fourth foul. Werth exited until the fourth quarter in the Mid-Continent League tournament championship game Jan. 23 at WaKeeney-Trego Community High School.
Hill City has coach Keith Riley and senior Trent Long. Riley is the state’s longest tenured coach with more than 50 years leading the Ringnecks. Long averages 20 points a game. After Werth went out, the Ringnecks went on an 19-2 run and led by nine entering the fourth. Long made nine straight shots, including six from the foul line.
Werth eventually fouled out with 3:42 remaining and TMP down by five. However, the Monarchs quickly closed the gap. Senior Kade Harris hit a huge 3, and senior Landon Rozean tied the game at 49 with 50 seconds left.
“They did a good job locking in in the last few minutes and really making plays they needed to make,” TMP coach Bill Meagher told SIK afterward. “The cool thing is, we call a timeout, it seems like it’s frustrating for us, we are not getting what we want, and the words I hear from our guys is we have been here before, we are going to find a way to make this happen.”
Like multiple games during the Meagher era, the Monarchs won in the final seconds. Hill City missed a hurried 3-pointer. TMP inbounded to Harris. He quickly dribbled the ball up the court and took a 3-pointer from the top. The shot missed and caromed to the middle. Harris ran around multiple players from both teams, gathered the rebound and scored the game-winning basket in a 51-49 victory.
“Our team, we talk about poise, just staying calm, coming together, playing as a team, and even though our big guy fouled out, we came together, played together and finished strong,” Harris said.
Harris was mobbed under the goal. The win gave TMP its second straight MCL tournament title. Riley said he had never lost a game like that in his Hall of Fame career.
“We let him get out of our trap,” Riley said. “That was the mistake right there, we should have never got out of our trap. Gave him a chance right there, and he drove down there, I knew we was in trouble.”
Harris has enjoyed an elite career with the Monarchs in football, basketball and track. He started all four years in football and has college interest at multiple levels. In basketball, Harris has helped the Monarchs to back-to-back 3A state final four finishes.
Each day, the Monarchs work on following their shots. Harris saw his shot go off the backboard. He had confidence someone could grab the rebound.
“I just happen to be right there,” he said.
Remarkably, Harris’ shot against Hill City is one of three-game winning baskets he has made this month. After a 67-35 win against Oakley on Monday, the Monarchs are 10-2, 4-0 in Mid-Continent League regular season contests.
“Our guys did a good job of just keeping their heads and just keep grinding and found a way to get a win,” Meagher said.
TMP has won nine in a row after its usual early season losses to much bigger schools at the December Hays City Shoot-Out. The Monarchs dropped down to 2A this season and are ranked second in 2A via the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association. Wichita Independent is ranked first, Ellinwood third and Lyndon fourth.
In the last two seasons, TMP has won at least seven games at the buzzer and/or in overtime.
“I think it’s our coaching,” Harris said. “They do a great job, just we come in every single day having the mentality that we are going to win, and we are going to play together, we are just going to finish strong.”
On Jan. 16, Harris made a game-winning shot in a 48-46 win against Hoxie in the MCL tournament quarterfinals. After the Hill City win, TMP faced 4A Abilene at home last Friday.
Before the contest, Harris was recognized for his invitation to the Kansas Shrine Bowl, played this summer at Fort Hays. He is the Monarchs’ first Shrine Bowler since ’03.
In a bizarre finish, the Monarchs was up by double figures at halftime. Abilene came back and led by two when time expired.
However, an Abilene player was called for a technical foul with no time left. By rule, even if no time remains, officials can assess a technical foul for that game – if the officials remain on the floor. Harris stepped to the line and made both free throws to send the game to overtime at 46 all. No time was left and no players were lined up on the free throw line. It was just Harris.
This is an extraordinarily infrequent occurrence for a technical foul with no left to affect the result. SIK looked games at a variety of levels in the last decade, and the only reported game like Friday was a men’s basketball Texas A&M 79-77 overtime win against Kentucky in 2016.
“Kade hit two of the biggest free throw shots I have ever seen,” Meagher said on his postgame radio show. “You want to talk about pressure, those were incredible.”
Then, Harris made another game-winning jumper from around the foul line for a 51-49 victory. Abilene stands at 8-6.
TMP was 1-12 in its last 13 games versus the Cowboys, a non-conference opponent the Monarchs routinely play each year. It marked the last time TMP beat Abilene at home since a 41-39 on Jan. 13, 2009. TMP also won that game on a last second shot.
“It’s just a group that never gives up and is going to play to the very end,” Meagher said.
Meagher is in his fifth year as TMP’s head coach after he served as an assistant from 2011-18. He has led the Monarchs to three final four showings, including a first-round upset at state in his first winter. In ’19-20, the Monarchs went 18-5, including a buzzer-beating win versus Hoisington in sub-state.
In 2020-21, the Monarchs went 21-5. On Jan. 22, 2021, TMP lost, 69-58, to Hoxie in the MCL tournament semifinals. That is the last time the Monarchs fell to a conference team.
Last year, TMP finished 20-6. On Feb. 1, the Monarchs defeated WaKeeney-Trego, 51-49, in overtime. TMP came back from eight with three and a half minutes left.
Two weeks later, TMP beat Great Bend, 39-36, on a game-winning 3-pointer. Two days after that, the Monarchs won at Norton, 46-44, in overtime. The Monarchs trailed by 15 against Norton.
At state, No. 6 seed Monarchs had its remarkable 68-67 double-overtime victory against No. 3 Galena. Werth score a putback at the buzzer. This season, Harris and Werth are the lone experienced players.
“Really got two guys that have real solid varsity experience,” Meagher said. “And we have got a whole lot of guys that are just trying to figure it out that are 10 games into it, and so, the good news is, they have got great attitudes, they care about each other, and they are working really, really hard, and I think that’s going to give you a chance to continue to grow as a team.”
The accomplished duo is joined by seniors Luke Rome, Landon Rozean, Harrison Lowe and Joey Mindrup. Plus, junior Griffin Schumacher has been a great defensive guard. TMP has used freshmen as rotational players when needed, too. The coaching staff has noted TMP’s defense.
“I think that we could still grow a little bit in that,” Meagher said. “But I think these guys really defend well, and I think that it’s probably one of our better defensive teams. Now, we have got to pick up the offensive side, but on the defensive side, they are working hard.”
TMP stayed poised and positive down the stretch against Hill City. TMP and HC could play for the MCL regular season title in a game at Hill City on Feb. 6. That is the second of five straight road games for the Monarchs. Plus, TMP (10-2), Hill City (10-2), Hoxie (10-4) and Atwood (10-4) are the headliners in the Ellis sub-state.
On the final play against Hill City, Meagher wanted Harris “going downhill” with Rome on the left and Rozean to the right. Harris made sure he got the 3-point shot off in time.
“One of the things for Kade, he just finishes plays,” Meagher said. “So it’s just natural for him to continue on and go get that ball and put it back up, and it happened to be the clock hadn’t run out.”