Leavenworth Free State High’s boys basketball team is fully aware of the first step it will need to take to have success in its sub-state opener.
A hot start will go a long way when the No. 7 seed Firebirds play at No. 2 Leavenworth at 7 tonight.
Said FSHS coach Chuck Law: “We have to avoid the notorious Free State slow start. You can’t dig a hole. They’re too good a team.”
Falling behind early has proven costly for Free State (7-13) this season, including in the team’s 63-56 loss at Leavenworth (15-5) on Feb. 7. The Pioneers, ranked No. 7 in Class 6A, led 20-12 after the first quarter and held a 10-point halftime advantage over the visiting Firebirds. It wasn’t until the second half that FSHS started playing well and outscored Leavenworth, 35-32.
Law said his team did good things on offense in Free State’s first meeting with the Pioneers, but the Firebirds suffered too many defensive breakdowns, and those instances often led to 5-0 or 6-0 spurts for the Pioneers just when Free State had fought back within one or two possessions.
“When you’re playing a team of that caliber, those kind of mental mistakes, they’re gonna kill you,” Law said.
The coach thought FSHS might have had a chance to win if it could’ve avoided miscues, such as not communicating and allowing Leavenworth’s Preston Padgett to get open and knock down three-pointers.
Senior Firebirds guard Cameron Dabney said Free State must contain both Padgett and the Pioneers’ leading scorer, Grant Greenberg.
“I think we matched up pretty well,” Dabney said, “we just didn’t communicate on screens and stuff.”
Free State might not be able to help off Greenberg, Dabney added. Law said his team also must keep Greenberg, who has averaged 28.5 points since he scored 20 against the Firebirds, off the glass and the foul line.
Tonight’s winner advances to a Saturday sub-state final at Leavenworth against either No. 3 seed Olathe South or No. 6 Gardner-Edgerton.
One thing FSHS has going for it in its return trip to Leavenworth is the Firebirds’ similarities with the Pioneers — “They’re a lot like us in a sense that they’ve got one big and four guards,” Law said.
Guards Brett Frantz, Shawn Knighton, Tyler Self and Dabney and post Gabe Patterson are likely to start against Leavenworth’s Padgett, Greenberg, Cameron Wiggins, Xavier Young and Jerricus Funderburke. Cole Moreano, Blake Winslow, Reshawn Caro, Kyle McFarland, Logan Bannister, Keith Loneker and Dimitar Gocevski all played for FSHS against Leavenworth a few weeks back.
After reviewing video from that first meeting, Dabney said eliminating the Pioneers’ second-chance points would be another point of emphasis.
“I think our defense just needs to step it up a little bit,” he added. “We could’ve taken advantage of the turnovers we got.”
Approximately 10 minutes before tipoff tonight at Leavenworth High, former Pioneers and Kansas University basketball player Wayne Simien will be honored for his induction into the 2012 KSHSAA Hall of Fame.
Simien graduated from Leavenworth in 2001 before playing four years at KU.