MCPHERSON The Free State High boys basketball team had one goal in mind when it loaded the bus and headed to McPherson on Thursday - win the McPherson Invitational.
Thanks to a school-record 81-percent shooting performance in Friday's 65-57 semifinal victory over the host team, the Firebirds now are one victory away from achieving that goal.
"We're very, very happy to be in the championship game," said coach Chuck Law, whose Firebirds improved to 9-2 on the season. "But these guys are not content just to be there. They had a goal in mind when we came out here, and that was to win the whole dang thing."
The victory guarantees the Firebirds their best finish ever at the McPherson Invitational. Two years ago Free State lost in the first round but bounced back to take fifth. Last year, FSHS was victorious in Round 1 but lost in the semifinals and finished third. Tonight, they play for first.
Law called Friday's victory a total team effort, citing the fact that several reserves played key roles down the stretch. With starters Craig Rosenstengle (fouls) and Conner Monarez (injury) out of the game, Jake Miller, Auston Jacobsen and Sean Brown logged important minutes in the fourth quarter.
"A lot of the credit goes to those guys tonight," Law said. "We threw kind of a patch-work lineup out there late in the game, and those guys really delivered."
Miller, playing in his first varsity game since the opener, scored two points, Jacobsen chipped in with four and Brown shot 3-of-3 from the floor to finish with six.
As a team, Free State shot 26-of-32 on the night. The red-hot showing made up for 23 turnovers.
"We had to do it," Law said. "Because we turned the ball over 23 times. If we don't shoot 81 percent, we lose the game."
Seniors Weston Wiebe (23) and Kris Wilson (19) led the Firebirds in scoring. Free State now will play Manhattan High (9-1) at 7:30 tonight for the championship. Manhattan advanced to the title game after a 40-38, buzzer-beater victory over Blue Valley West.