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Lackluster third period hurts Firebirds

Eric Watson, on floor at left, goes for loose ball for Free State in the Firebirds' game against Topeka High Tuesday at Free State High.

Eric Watson, on floor at left, goes for loose ball for Free State in the Firebirds' game against Topeka High Tuesday at Free State High.

February 4, 2009

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Topeka routs Free State

The Free State boys continue their slide, losing to Topeka 67-47. Enlarge video

For most of the Free State High boys basketball season, it has been a minute or two lapse at some point during the game that has sealed the Firebirds’ fate.

Tuesday night, it was an entire quarter.

Behind a lackluster third quarter, in which they were outscored by 10 points, the Firebirds suffered their 12th straight defeat on Tuesday, a 67-47 setback to Topeka High at FSHS.

The loss dropped Free State to 1-12 on the season and erased the boost of confidence the team gained from a 13-4 run that closed the second quarter and pulled the Firebirds within seven at the halftime break.

The first half ended when junior guard Nick Hassig raced up the floor and buried an off-balance, one-handed three-pointer at the buzzer. Hassig was 4-for-4 from downtown in the first half and led all scorers with 14 points.

“Walking into the locker room, you could just tell that everybody felt like we had the momentum,” senior Chase Hoag said. “But then, on the first play of the third quarter, we threw the ball away, and we lost it immediately.”

The Firebirds actually closed the gap to six points — 33-27 — on a free throw from Michael Swank before things went south completely. As the quarter progressed, the Firebirds suffered through more plays that resembled the turnover that kick-started the quarter.

While the Firebirds struggled to get into their offense, the Trojans padded their lead.

Three buckets from junior Onzay Branch and one each from AJ Barber, Mico Anderson and Olian Alexander provided the power for Topeka High’s 13-0 run that turned a six-point game into a 46-27 runaway.

The worst part about the run from Free State’s perspective was that it followed the gameplan to a tee.

“Our main focus was to make them shoot from the outside because they were bigger and stronger than us inside,” Hoag said. “But they just kept hitting shots and they were just daggers, every one of them.”

Topeka led 50-33 after three quarters and cruised to an easy victory in the fourth. The win was the sixth in the last eight games for the Trojans, who started the season 0-5.

Unlike in previous games, when the Firebirds have made their best runs late in games, Free State simply ran out of gas in this one.

Hassig led the Firebirds with 14 points, while Swank and Connor Monarez added seven points apiece.

Next up, the Firebirds take on a loaded Shawnee Mission South squad Friday before playing Sunflower League powerhouses Leavenworth and SM Northwest in back-to-back games next week.

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