Free State boys crush Junction City in sub-state opener
photo by: Carter Gaskins
Faces might change, but the expectations will remain the same for the Free State boys basketball team.
The Firebirds lost nearly all of their production from last year’s team, which made it to the first state championship game in program history before falling to Blue Valley Northwest. Free State began its redemption tour the right way with a 66-35 win over Junction City in the sub-state opener Wednesday night at FSHS.
It marked the fourth consecutive season that Free State has made it to the sub-state championship. The Firebirds are now one win away from earning a state berth for the third straight year.
“We full-heartedly believe we can beat anybody,” junior Alyus Wisdom said. “We have a feeling that we can do this, that we can go all the way. Expectations are the same no matter who is out there.”
Wisdom, who finished with 10 points in his first career start, was one of two players to score in double figures. Senior Noah Butler led the way with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
The Firebirds (14-6, No. 10 in Class 6A) used a total-team effort to cruise past the Blue Jays. Ten players scored, as freshman Mozae Downing and junior DK Middleton each notched 8 points. Senior Ryan Stacey chipped in 7 points. Ethan Lincoln, Turner Corcoran, Andrew Piper, Wyatt Durland and Olin Yoder all scored, as well.
“We settled in after the first few minutes and probably played our most complete game of the year,” FSHS coach Sam Stroh said. “It was a good time to do it.”
Junction City (No. 10 seed) and Free State (No. 7 seed) traded punches before the hosts flipped the switch on the defensive end.
After the Blue Jays hit four of their first five shots, the Firebirds held the opposition to seven made field goals over the next 20 minutes to take control of the game. Butler swatted a couple shots in the first quarter, and FSHS forced a 10-second violation by showing full-court pressure defense on one possession.
Free State eventually took a 15-10 advantage after the opening period.
“We are a team that needs to turn people over and create extra possessions for us,” Stroh said. “We had some pregame goals on the board in terms of deflections, charges and rebounds. I think we hit all of them.”
Wisdom hit a couple early layups in transition, and also managed to draw a charge in the first two minutes of the second period. He later was credited with an assist on a triple by Middleton from the corner.
It proved to be a pivotal stretch for the Firebirds, who stretched their lead to double digits by the intermission. The game was never in doubt after that.
Wisdom admitted that it was his best game as a Firebird given the way he contributed in other aspects. His career high is a 13-point showing against Mill Valley in the opening round of the McPherson Invitational, which really helped him get going this year.
“I jinxed myself coming into my first year on varsity, not really knowing what is going to happen,” Wisdom said. “That Mill Valley game was my breakout game. For me, a game like that means everything to me. It doesn’t have to be scoring, it just has to be a good, solid game.”
Free State now turns its attention to Derby, the No. 15 seed, following its 62-26 upset over No. 2 Topeka High. The Panthers have played in a number of close games this season, which can make their 6-14 record a bit misleading.
The sub-state championship is slated to take place at 7 p.m. Friday at FSHS.
“Derby is a good team, and now they are playing with house money,” Stroh said. “They are dangerous right now.”
JUNCTION CITY (35)
Kody Westerhaus 0-7 0-0 0, Anthony Twiggs 3-3 0-0 6, Qua’vez Humphreys 3-7 4-6 10, Darrin Battiste 4-9 1-2 10, James Hall 2-3 0-0 4, Terrance Crumpton 0-1 0-0 0, Howard Johnson 1-2 0-0 2, Terrance Tedder 0-2 0-0 0, Aaron Hamilton 1-1 0-0 3, Seth Clark 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 14-36 5-8 35.
FREE STATE (66)
Mozae Downing 3-6 2-2 8, Noah Butler 7-12 4-6 19, DK Middleton 4-7 0-0 8, Ryan Stacey 2-4 2-3 7, Alyus Wisdom 4-8 2-2 10, Ethan Lincoln 1-2 0-1 3, Turner Corcoran 2-3 0-0 4, Andrew Piper 0-0 2-2 2, Wyatt Durland 1-1 0-0 3, Olin Yoder 0-0 2-2 2. Totals: 24-43 14-18 66.
Junction City 10 7 8 10 — 35
Free State 15 15 17 19 — 66
Three-point goals: JC 2-16 (Battiste, Hamilton); FS 4-9 (Butler, Stacey, Lincoln, Durland). Turnovers: JC 17, FS 8. Fouled out: None.