Free State boys vs. Olathe North
Free State's boys basketball team claimed a victory against Olathe North January 15, 2010.
Free State girls vs. Olathe North
The Firebirds captured a victory against Olathe North January 15, 2010.
So there he was again, game on the line, ball in his hands, time winding down.
It has become a familiar position for Free State High junior Eric Watson. And, finally, the result of one of these do-or-die situations invited him to sprint to midcourt, pump his fists twice and then quickly run to shake hands with the opponents.
The Firebirds knocked off Olathe North, 42-38, Friday at FSHS, and Watson had plenty to do with it. But, somewhat amazingly, fate did, too.
With less than a minute to play, the Firebirds were reeling from a turnover that allowed O-North to tie the game at 38. But as they’ve started to do with some kind of consistency now, they set their offense and got the ball to Watson. As he drove left and turned toward the basket, he flipped a bullet pass to Ryan Scott, who got his hands on the pass, but could not catch it. Fortunately for the Firebirds, Scott’s mitts guided the ball oh-so-softly into the hands of junior Alec Heline. Heline caught the ball and, in rhythm, went up for what Free State coach Chuck Law called the biggest shot of his career thus far. Swish.
“That’s exactly how we drew that one up,” Law said with a laugh. “All we talked about at halftime was making plays. Alec is our best shooter. And Alec can make plays. Hopefully that shot will be a stepping stone for his career.”
When Watson saw the ball wind up in Heline’s hands, he wasn’t worried.
“I knew when Alec caught it that he was going to make it,” he said.
Added Scott of his impromptu pass: “My sister plays volleyball. That’s what that was.”
All good-natured kidding from a bunch of guys who needed a ball to bounce their way. But when the shooter reflected on his own clutch shot, he brought back a dose of reality.
“It was about time I made a shot, to be honest with you,” Heline said.
While Heline’s heroics put the Firebirds (4-4 overall, 1-2 Sunflower League) on top, it was their grit, particularly on the defensive end, that got them there.
“Our defense was really good,” Law said. “They had to work really hard for everything they got.”
Watson led the Firebirds with 12 points, and senior Josh May added seven points and led the charge for the team’s toughness, finishing with 10 rebounds and five blocks.
Free State girls 57, Olathe North 40
Free State’s girls basketball team learned a thing or two about toughness during its victory against Olathe North.
Before they could, however, the Firebirds had to learn a lesson from their coach.
Free State (6-2 overall, 3-0 Sunflower League) dominated the first two quarters and took a 32-10 lead at halftime. The Firebirds shot 63 percent from the field in the first half while holding the Eagles to 11 percent.
In the second half, things changed. The Firebirds were sluggish. Olathe North played hard, and the Eagles cut the Free State lead to eight with 5:50 to play.
At that point, Free State coach Bryan Duncan called a timeout and let his girls have it.
He talked about effort, intensity, finishing and pride. His team countered with a 9-2 run that iced the game. Sophomore guard Lynn Robinson snagged a pair of steals, and sophomore Jackie Garcia grabbed a rebound, a steal and forced a tie-up.
“That’s as hard as I can chew a team, and they responded great,” Duncan said. “That was really good to see.”
The girls said they were not upset by Duncan’s tirade.
“We stepped up after we got our butts chewed,” said senior Chantay Caron, who led FSHS with 25 points. “I thought we responded by playing tough. Maybe he should have done it earlier.”
Ashli Hill added 15 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks for Free State.