If Free State High boys basketball coach Chuck Law had a choice, his Firebirds would open the postseason with the comfort and familiarity of facing one of its Sunflower League foes in the first round of sub-state.
That’s not how the Class 6A bracket worked out, however. The Firebirds hit the road today for a 7 p.m. game at Gardner-Edgerton.
“I think the fear of the known is better than the fear of the unknown,” Law said, describing the negatives of facing a team for the first time in the playoffs.
According to the coach, FSHS (9-11) could have prepared more easily for a fellow Sunflower program, such as Lawrence or Olathe East, than GEHS (12-8), an unknown Eastern Kansas League commodity. The Blazers’ physicality and talent is one matter; scouting against their various game plans is another.
“They run a million sets on offense, they run a multitude of different defenses and switch up quite frequently,” Law said. “When you have two days to prepare ... that’s a little confounding.”
Considering all the cons of taking on a foreign opponent, FSHS junior forward Khadre Lane said he and fellow starters Logan Bannister, Cole Moreano, Reshawn Caro and Keith Loneker, as well as the rest of the 10-player rotation, should harness the positives of a simplistic approach.
“We get to go out and play as hard as we can and do our jobs,” Lane said.
A key aspect of Free State’s strategy will involve contesting all shots on the perimeter, especially those being fired by senior sharpshooter Kyle Huppe. The Firebirds played physical defense through most of their City Showdown win over Lawrence on Friday. Lane said junior Blake Winslow helped set that tone and Free State would like to duplicate the effort against GEHS: “Probably play the exact same game we did Friday, because (the Lions) had a bunch of shooters.”
Finishing the regular season with a victory against LHS, Law said, should help give Free State — which had lost four of its previous five — a boost, because there is an added excitement in preparing for the Blazers, who have won five straight.
“The focus and attention to detail will certainly be better considering we won the game Friday,” Law said, “as opposed to if we coughed up that 15-point lead. That would’ve been devastating.”
Lane agreed having that “winning feeling” lifted the Firebirds’ morale. To keep it alive, Law said FSHS must rebound the ball well against a very athletic, aggressive opponent. The Blazers, he added, could be the best transition team Free State has faced this season. With that in mind, the coach said his team can’t afford empty, one-shot-and-done possessions on offense.
“If we don’t get in there and get some pressure on them on the offensive glass and get some stick-backs,” Law said, “and if we fall prey to we shoot it, one guy’s gonna rebound it and the other three are just gonna stand around and watch, they’re gonna get out in transition.”
Though the sub-state opener is on the road, Law said it shouldn’t be a “huge deal.” The Firebirds have played 13 games away from FSHS this season, going 5-8 at road and neutral sites.
The winner of tonight’s game at GEHS moves on to face Olathe East (12-8) or Olathe Northwest (9-11) in a sub-state final on Friday.