Firebirds, Lions looking forward to rematches at state tournament

Returning to the Class 6A state tournament for the second consecutive year, Free State’s boys basketball players feel more talented and more experienced than last season.

Their first chance to prove it will be against a familiar opponent: Wichita South. With a touch of deja vu, the two schools played each other in the first round of the state tournament last year. The Firebirds won 48-42.

Free State coach Sam Stroh expects the score to be a little bit higher when the second-seeded Firebirds (17-5) begin play at 3 p.m. today at Wichita State’s Koch Arena.

“It’ll test us,” Stroh said. “They are athletic. They are quick. They’ve got multiple scorers.”

Wichita South (13-9), seeded seventh, upset Wichita Southeast in its sub-state title game last weekend. Remy Lemovou, a 6-foot-8 forward, leads the Titans with 11 points per game.

“We kind of have the feel for what they do,” FSHS senior forward Jalan Robinson said. “They have some of the same players but not too many. The big guy is the same so we definitely have some experience playing him.”

After taking third place at state last season, the Firebirds were proud of earning a trip back to Wichita. But they made sure to raise their goals at the beginning of the season.

“I feel like this year, we knew we could get to state,” FSHS senior guard Simon McCaffrey said. “So it’s more like we have to get to the state championship this year. We’re really focused. We know we’re good enough.”

Lions confident in state title game rematch

When Lawrence High’s boys basketball players saw their first round opponent for the Class 6A state tournament, some of them saw it as a chance for revenge and others just shrugged.

In a rematch of last year’s state title game, the Lions (13-9) will face top-seeded Blue Valley Northwest (18-4) at 6:30 tonight at Koch Arena. The Huskies haven’t lost to a team from Kansas this season, winning each of their last seven games by more than 20 points.

“I guess it’s a little bit of a revenge factor because of last year,” LHS senior Jake Rajewski said. “We feel like we can play with anybody. It doesn’t matter who is out on the court. We’re just going to go out there and compete.”

The eighth-seeded Lions are returning to the state tournament for the fourth straight season — the first time that’s been accomplished in the program since 1916-1922.

Throughout the four years, Rajewski had a front row seat. His older brother, Ben, helped start the streak in 2015 so Rajewski has traveled to Wichita all four season.

“It’s pretty special,” Rajewski said.