Topeka It was a night of firsts in more ways than one at Washburn Rural High on Friday night, as four high school basketball coaches made their varsity debuts in the Junior Blues’ gymnasium.
Unfortunately for the Lawrence High boys and girls basketball teams, new coaches Nick Wood and Mike Lewis came up on the short end in their season openers, as Wood’s girls fell, 59-41, in the early game, and Lewis’ boys suffered a 58-38 defeat in the nightcap.
Friday also represented a night of varsity firsts for several players on both rosters and the results varied drastically.
But as the brooms swept the floor and fans filed toward the exits, thoughts of what had just unfolded began to sink in for members of both teams.
“We’ve been waiting for this for over a year,” said sophomore guard K.J. Pritchard, who led the LHS boys with 13 points on 3-of-6 shooting from three-point range. “Ever since Anthony (Buffalomeat, 7 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks) and I were playing last year at Southwest (Jr. High), we talked about what this would be like. I figured it would be fast, and I figured the intensity would be higher, but being out there for the first time is something I’m probably going to remember forever.”
And why not? After the Lions dug a 13-3 hole to open the game, Pritchard came off the bench and gave the red and black a lift. He scored all eight of LHS’s points in the opening quarter — including a pair of high-arcing three-pointers — and injected some life into a lineup that struggled to score.
“Offensively, K.J. really helped us,” Lewis said. “He and Anthony and Logan (Henrichs), those are three sophomores that I’m just going to keep throwing into the fire.”
Together, that trio combined for 22 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
Joining the sophomores in playing their first real varsity minutes Friday were seniors Michael McCabe and Matt Montes de Oca, who both started and played extensively throughout the night.
“I think we were a little bit shocked by the intensity since none of us had really played varsity minutes except for (senior) Marcus (Ray),” said McCabe, who scored eight points. “Once we got past the first shock, we settled down a little and started playing basketball. For us, it’s just an experience thing right now.”
After closing the first quarter on a 5-0 run, LHS trailed by just five heading into the second quarter. The lead ballooned to 11 by the break and in the third quarter, the Junior Blues hit the Lions with a run similar to the one they used to open the game. A 16-2 third-quarter advantage turned things into a run-away and, after the game, the Lions lamented the two devastating spurts.
“If we avoid those two runs, I think we’re right there at the end,” Pritchard said.
Despite the loss, Lewis was encouraged by several things he saw from his young and inexperienced squad.
“Our composure was good, nobody let down, and our attitude was good all night,” he said. “I was really proud of the way everyone stuck together and rode this one out.”
While Lewis sent 13 different players to the floor Friday in search of that one lineup that might click, Wood used 11 different girls in his lineup, largely because of the breakneck pace at which his team played.
Reeling from a 15-3 first quarter and a 22-point halftime deficit (33-11), the Lions finally remembered how to play their brand of basketball in the second half.
Jasmyn Turner scored seven of her team-high 15 points in the first two minutes of the third quarter and that helped LHS close the gap to 14 with 4:45 to play in the third. But just as it had done in the first half, Washburn Rural buried the Lions with an impressive barrage of three-pointers, including three from Maggie Holmberg and three more from Alexa Bordewick. Three straight from downtown from those two turned a 38-23 cushion into a 47-23 bean-bag chair and Rural went to the fourth quarter with a 20-point lead.
Still, the Lions pressured the ball, played with tenacity on defense and refused to let up. The effort helped the veteran group, which features three girls who played significant minutes for the 2008 state championship team, cut the Junior Blues’ lead to 49-38 after a three-pointer from Haley Parker (10 points) with 4:09 to play.
“The way we played in the second half was the way we want to play all year,” Wood said. “If we can do that, we’re going to be extremely competitive. In my mind, we outplayed them in the second half.”
That showed on the scoreboard, too, as LHS owned a 30-26 advantage in the third and fourth quarter.
Part of the reason for the turnaround came from within.
“For some reason, we were all just standing around in the first half and I knew that we needed someone to step up and be a scorer,” Turner said. “That’s a different role for me, but I’m going to try to get used to being more of a scorer.”
The LHS girls (0-1) played Friday’s game without senior and projected starter Jordyn Tolefree, who was out with an injury. The LHS boys (0-1) also played a significant portion of their game without one of its senior starters. Drake DeBiasse missed the second half after rolling his left ankle on the final play of the second quarter.
It’s not yet known when the two will return to the lineup, but, when they do, that too will be a first for these two teams.
Both squads will tip off tournament action next week, as the girls will travel to the Overland Park Aquinas tournament and the boys once again will compete at the Blue Valley Shootout. Both tournaments will run Thursday through Saturday.