There’s no way that anyone in the Free State High locker room could call Tuesday’s 53-44 setback against Shawnee Mission North just another loss.
The sighs were too telling. The shoulder shrugs said more. The looks of frustration, futility and flat-out anger spoke loudly without making a noise.
“It’s really just demoralizing,” said Free State senior Connor Monarez moments after his team suffered its 16th straight defeat. “It’s really hard to look around at your teammates and know that we’re all trying hard but we just can’t get it done.”
For 16 straight games, that has been the losing formula for the Firebirds. The effort is there, the Firebirds believe they can win, they just don’t. Tuesday’s loss to SM North (3-14) hit the Firebirds extra hard for a couple of reasons. First, it was senior night, the last time five FSHS players would suit up for a game in their home gym. Second, they were playing a team with a similarly sluggish record, therein giving them even more reason to believe that their second win could be on its way.
The opening minutes of the game illustrated otherwise. North jumped out to leads of 7-0 and 12-2 before the Firebirds could break a sweat.
“I thought we were going to be ready and it was really surprising that we didn’t have any energy at the start,” senior guard Douglas Compton said. “We basically said before the game that this was Round 1 of the state playoffs but we just didn’t come out with any energy.”
Despite the slow start, the Firebirds closed the quarter on a 9-2 run and trailed just 14-11 after the first. But the momentum gained from the mini-run was short-lived and wasn’t nearly enough to push them into the win column.
SMN scored the first 10 points of the second quarter and pushed its lead to 24-11, sending the Firebirds (1-16) into scramble mode for the rest of the night.
“We made that run at the end of the first but we still weren’t into it mentally,” FSHS coach Chuck Law said. “Effort’s not enough on any night in this league. You have to play and you have to execute.”
Halftime provided one of the best boys basketball moments of the season, as senior Nate Devin, a former junior varsity player who was forced to sit out the season because of a torn ACL, raked in $235 in the halftime shooting contest sponsored by Intrust Bank.
Devin, summoned from the bleachers by public address announcer Bobby Nichols, had 60 seconds to hit a lay-up, free throw, three-pointer and half-court shot. Each station was worth an increasingly larger amount of money and the total was Devin’s to keep.
He quickly hit the first three shots giving him a guaranteed $35 heading into the half-court heave. After nine misses, Devin drained his final try as the buzzer sounded. The gym went nuts, as students rushed the floor and fans from both sides cheered loudly for the money man.
“I knew I’d have the first three,” Devin said. “But the half-court shot was awesome. It was kind of cool, being senior night and all. Kind of like a different way for me to go out.”
Unfortunately for the Firebirds in uniform, they went out the way they had so many times before.
Free State cut the deficit to eight points early in the third quarter but never drew closer. The Indians kept the lead around the 10-point mark for much of the fourth quarter, despite connecting on just 4-of-14 free throws in the final quarter.
“We just couldn’t score,” Compton said. “They were men tonight, and we were boys.”
Nick Hassig led the Firebirds with 15 points. Eric Watson added 11 points and 10 rebounds. Michael Swank chipped in with nine and Compton added four.
Next up, Free State travels to SM West on Friday.