PRAIRIE VILLAGE Wearing seldom-used all-black uniforms, Free State High boys basketball team members looked like cat burglars Tuesday.
The Firebirds weren't supposed to win against Shawnee Mission East. Not with the offense shooting enough bricks to build a silo.
Not on the home court of a 13-5 team on a nine-game winning streak and celebrating a sentimental senior night.
And not when the Firebirds were trailing the whole game, the low-water mark by 10 points in the third quarter.
It didn't look good.
But somehow, like a cat burglar decked in black, Free State stole the game anyway, coming from behind, snagging the lead late, holding on to it until the buzzer sounded and escaping SM East with a 58-55 victory.
Oh, those thieves.
"For us to play as poorly as we played and still win the game," FSHS coach Jack Schreiner said, "is huge for these kids."
Free State (13-6 overall, 8-2 Sunflower League) trailed for the first 27 minutes of the contest and hit a frustrating low when the Lancers (13-6, 6-4) took a 48-38 lead near the end of the third quarter.
But the shooting that was sour most of the way suddenly improved. Senior Tyler Blankenship, the team's top outside threat, knocked down a three-pointer to make it 48-41. Junior Matt Green hit another to make it 48-44 right before the end of the third quarter.
A game once on the verge of being lost was suddenly on the verge of being stolen back. Good thing the Firebirds wore the all-black attire.
"Our pressure finally got to them," Schreiner said. "(SM East) handled it really well until that last little stretch there."
Blankenship struck again with 5:03 left in the fourth, drilling his second three of the game to give Free State its first lead at 49-48. His third and final trey, with 2:44 to play, gave Free State a 54-53 edge.
For as many quiet points as the Firebirds scored Tuesday, Blankenship's 10 were deafening.
"You've got to have confidence every time you shoot," said Blankenship, who's hit at least one three in each of Free State's 19 games this season. "I think it was more of my teammates getting me the ball when I had a shot."
Free State surrendered the lead again, then tied it again with 29.8 seconds left on a Cole Douglas free throw. After SM East's Ryan Hintz missed a layup, the Firebirds run-and-gunned down the court to an open Dain Dillingham, who was hacked before he could get a clean shot off with 8.3 seconds left.
Dillingham hit the first free throw, but the second rimmed out. No matter. Blankenship snagged the offensive rebound and quickly dished it out to junior Brady Morningstar, the team's top free-throw shooter. Morningstar, who finished with a team-high 11 points, was immediately fouled and sank two more charities with 5.4 seconds left to give FSHS the three-point cushion.
Free State has won four in a row, with a Friday matchup with Olathe North left before sub-state action begins next week. With a 13-6 mark, Free State has clinched a first-round home game at sub-state, to be played March 4.
"I told the guys, 'You probably got more out of this than if we would've won by 20,'" Schreiner said. "We learned to hang in there, hang in there, hang in there, and good things will happen. I'm really proud of them."