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High School Sports

High School Sports

Frantic finish

Firebirds fall to Jaguars in final seconds

Free State’s Evan Manning, left, defends Blue Valley West’s DeSean Warren. The Firebirds lost, 38-36, on Tuesday at Free State High.

Free State’s Evan Manning, left, defends Blue Valley West’s DeSean Warren. The Firebirds lost, 38-36, on Tuesday at Free State High.

January 6, 2010

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Firebirds drop close contest

The Free State boys basketball team dropped a two-point contest to Blue Valley West Tuesday. The Firebirds dropped to 3-3 on the season. Enlarge video

To borrow a phrase from Free State High soccer coach, Jason Pendleton, “Every win is not a wedding, and every loss is not a funeral.”

Unfortunately for the Free State boys basketball team, Tuesday’s 38-36 setback to Blue Valley West sure felt funereal.

“That was a game we absolutely let get away from us,” FSHS coach Chuck Law said. “But it wasn’t lost there at the end. We lost it in the first half and in the first few minutes of the third quarter.”

Of course, the end didn’t exactly help.

After leading for 31 minutes of the 32-minute contest, the Firebirds saw the Jaguars take their first lead with 1:00 to play. Although a handful of Free State turnovers (15 on the night) contributed to the Jaguars’ comeback, the Firebirds still were in good shape as the clock ticked down to double digits.

With the poise and confidence of a much older team, the Firebirds ran a set that got the ball into the hands of their go-to guy, Eric Watson. With his man crowding him on the wing, Watson drove hard to the bucket for what would have been a go-ahead layup. But West’s Connor Haden altered the shot, and the Firebirds came away empty.

“That’s our guy,” Law said. “And I thought he really made a nice move to the basket. Eric’s been practicing really well, and tonight he was aggressive and did what we want him to do.”

After Haden converted one of two free throws to give Blue Valley West a two-point lead, the Firebirds again ran a set to get the ball to Watson. That’s when the frantic finish unfolded. First, a pass intended for Watson was stolen. But in a matter of seconds, Free State senior Nick Hassig had stolen the ball back. As the clock ticked below 10 seconds remaining, Hassig heaved the ball up the floor to junior Alec Heline, who spotted junior Evan Manning wide open across the court. As Manning set his feet to catch and shoot, he bobbled the pass and then traveled while trying to recover. In the final 21 seconds alone the teams combined for three turnovers, no points and, worse yet for Free State, no shots.

“With the exception of a couple of possessions, I thought we did some OK things down the stretch,” Law said. “We just had a hard time finishing.”

The night was not a total loss for the Firebirds. Although the pain of snatching defeat from the clutches of victory was evident on the faces of the Free State players as they filed out of the locker room at the end of the night, Watson said his team took a step forward despite the loss.

“We didn’t get the win tonight,” Watson said. “But in the long run, it’s nice to see that when we’re in another close game and we need somebody to step up and be a go-to guy, I can be that guy.”

Watson led the Firebirds with 12 points on five-of-eight shooting. Hassig added seven points on three-of-six shooting and senior Ryan Scott also chipped in seven points despite being the last player off of the Free State bench.

The Firebirds (3-3) will play at Olathe East at 7 p.m. Friday.

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