Salina The way Ottawa High started and finished against Chanute, the Cyclones looked like championship material.
That's what made Saturday's 80-64 victory in the third-place game at the boys Class 4A state tournament slightly bittersweet.
The Cyclones, smarting from a 67-59 semifinal loss Friday to Colby, took their frustrations out on Chanute. Ottawa (22-4) opened up a nine-point lead in the first quarter and pulled away from the Blue Comets (23-3), thanks to solid free-throw shooting and post play.
The third-place trophy was the school's best finish since winning the 1971 state title.
"It's hard. It's hard to think that you were two minutes away from playing in the big one," OHS coach David Grover said. "But when you have a chance to put up 22 wins in a season, that doesn't come around very often. It's the first hardware the school has had in 32 years.
"You bet it's something."
Ottawa's start was critical against the Blue Comets, the tournament's top seed. Both teams averaged more than 70 points, so Grover had his team ready to run.
The Cyclones created three straight turnovers in a 50-second span in the first quarter, taking a 13-4 lead. Ottawa's press, which was ineffective against Colby, bothered the Blue Comets all game.
"If we were in the championship game, I would not have expected us to play with any more energy," Grover said. "You always worry when you're in that third-place game if that energy is there."
Just as importantly, the Cyclones dominated inside.
Both teams have five players 6-foot-3 or taller, but Ottawa's frontcourt of senior Ross Thompson, juniors Andrew Maxwell and Clint Bones and sophomore Caleb Blakesley combined for 42 points, including 19 from Thompson.
"They were one of the first teams not to triple-team the post," Thompson said. "They were aggressive, but they played kind of a loose defense."
The scoring punch negated Chanute's 42-35 rebounding edge.
"We felt like this was the game we could get some points in the paint if you made an extra pass, you could get some great looks," Grover said. "A lot of credit should go to our passing. Not just our guards, but our forwards, too."
Ottawa didn't dominate the whole way, as Chanute pulled even, 15-all, early in the second quarter. Nineteen ties or lead changes later, Ottawa took the lead for good when junior Drew Waldron hit two free throws with 1:28 left in the third quarter. Waldron finished with 13 points.
The Cyclones hit 13 of 18 free throws in the fourth quarter -- including 7-of-8 by junior Lee Baldwin, who finished with 16 points -- while Chanute shot three-pointers on every possession to cut into the lead. It didn't work.
The Blue Comets were just 1-of-13 in the fourth quarter from three-point range.
"It's satisfactory," Thompson said. "You wish you could rewind to what got you here, but you can't not walk out of here happy."