Topeka Amazing how much better things can turn out for a high school basketball team when its players' heads are in the right place.
One day after mental letdowns led to an unexpected loss to Topeka Seaman, Free State High rebounded with a crisp effort against Wichita West, winning 75-62 Friday in the consolation semifinals of the Topeka Invitational Tournament.
The unanimous reason why the Firebirds looked better Friday? They were mentally prepared this time around.
"It feels a lot better," FSHS senior Tyler Blankenship said. "We knew we had to come out hard if we wanted to win."
Free State did just that, scoring 22 first-quarter points despite being dominated on the boards. Wichita West (2-8) hung close with the Firebirds in the first half thanks to an abundance of offensive rebounds -- and subsequent second-chance points.
After halftime, though, Free State (6-3) focused mainly on boxing out and grabbing rebounds, and what came of it was a 14-2 run that put the Firebirds up 47-32 midway through the third quarter.
"In the third quarter, they only had one offensive rebound," FSHS coach Jack Schreiner said. "I thought that was probably the key in us getting up to a big lead. In the first half, we gave them shot after shot after shot."
From there, the Firebirds hit the cruise control -- which may have led to Wichita West chiseling away at the deficit late. The Pioneers never threatened, but they did outscore the Firebirds 24-18 in the final frame.
"I think the kids kind of thought, 'OK, this is over,' and kind of had a little letup," FSHS coach Jack Schreiner said.
Regardless, Free State came away with an important victory. Not only did the Firebirds erase the bad taste of the 58-56 loss to Seaman Thursday, but the win led to a city showdown rematch with Lawrence High, a team they know well and already have beaten once this season.
FSHS senior Dain Dillingham led FSHS with 22 points, hitting eight of 10 free throws. Senior Tyler Blankenship scored 13 points, including one of the team's three three-pointers.
The Firebirds hit 14 of 21 free throws -- better than Thursday's 7-of-14 performance -- but many of the misses came late when the Pioneers were trying to climb back into the contest.
Good thing they took care of business earlier in the contest.
"I think we shot the ball pretty well, except for free throws," Schreiner said. "That makes a difference when you shoot the ball well."