Free State High’s boys basketball team knows what it’s like to play the underdog role. The Firebirds were the seventh seed in last year’s sub-state bracket before winning two road games on their way to the state tournament.
FSHS (11-9) will open sub-state play seeded sixth against third-seeded Derby (15-5, ranked No. 10 in Class 6A by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association) at 7 p.m. today at Derby High and is hoping for a repeat performance from a year ago.
“It’s a tough draw, but there aren’t any slouch teams in Class 6A basketball,” Firebirds coach Chuck Law said. “You’re going to have to beat two good teams regardless of who you are to get a state berth. We know what’s before us. We know we’ve done it before.”
Free State returned seven seniors from last season’s state tournament team, and that experience has helped them stay relaxed at practice this week.
“We have a lot of drive to us, especially after last year,” senior Innocent Anavberokhai said. “We realized we can do anything that we set our minds to.”
The last time the Firebirds traveled to the western part of the state, they won all three games in the McPherson Invitational in mid-January. Derby lost in the semifinals to Shawnee Mission East and took fourth place in the tournament.
“I’d like to think we have a pretty good vibe going in that direction,” Law said. “(Games are played) a little bit different out there than how it’s played (here). It’s a little more up-tempo. How it’s officiated is a little bit different. I think our guys are ready to go out there and try to repeat what we did last year.”
LHS hosts Gardner
Lawrence High’s boys basketball players know how successful they were in the regular season. They also realize none of it that matters now.
“We have to stay focused, and our guys do have a maturity about them going into this year,” LHS coach Mike Lewis said. “They understand what it takes to play well at this time of the year.”
The Lions (16-4, ranked No. 5) will play host to Gardner-Edgerton (10-10) at 7 p.m. today. After losing in the final home game of the regular season, it’s a welcomed relief for the seniors to play another game at LHS, and they want to give their home crowd a better showing.
“After we lost to Shawnee Mission East on Senior Night, it’s nice that we were able to get a home game as our first game,” senior Connor Henrichs said. “That’ll be good.”