FSHS, LHS look to get back on track in friendly affair during City Showdown

photo by: Mike Yoder

Former Free State guard guard Reece White-Downing races to the basket for a shot while defended by Lawrence's Trey Quartlebaum in a matchup between the two city teams on Dec. 16, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

A pair of instances from this season illustrate just how special the City Showdown is.

On Jan. 15, Free State junior DK Middleton threw down a powerful dunk over Blue Valley West defender Matt Cairns in the first quarter of a 51-36 win. In the crowd, Lawrence High players rose to their feet to motion that the slam was on the defender’s head.

Just 10 days later, the Free State boys basketball team had a similar reaction when LHS’ Bryce Johnson posted a vigorous slam in the fourth quarter of a 92-68 win over Wyandotte on Jan. 25.

“It is cool to see my friends succeed,” Middleton said. “It is fun, knowing what they are going to do. It is going to be a fun game.”

The friendly affair will turn into a riveting rivalry matchup during Monday’s City Showdown at LHS. The girls game will start at 5:30 p.m., and the boys game is slated to follow. All four teams will be looking to get back in the win column after losing on Friday.

Free State’s boys basketball team (11-4, 5-3 Sunflower League) is coming off a 63-62 defeat, while Lawrence (12-3, 5-2) has lost two of its last three games following a 57-55 road loss to Shawnee Mission West.

Both teams remain ranked in the top-10 in Class 6A via the latest poll by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association. The Lions are No. 4 after being ranked as high as No. 2 this season, while the Firebirds are listed at No. 9.

“We shouldn’t have to get up for that game,” FSHS coach Sam Stroh said. “It is a tough team in a tough environment. They prevent all kinds of challenges with their athleticism and their length.”

Despite the quick turnaround, both squads should have no problem preparing for this game given the familiarity between these two teams.

In fact, three of the key players in this game even played on the same team in the summer with KC Run GMC. Free State senior Noah Butler, who transferred from LHS after his sophomore season, was on that team, along with Lawrence seniors Clarence King and Trey Quartlebaum.

Butler is coming off a 23-point performance, and he also contributed to Free State’s win over Lawrence last season to end the program’s eight-game losing skid in the City Showdown.

“He’s good, he’s going to be a challenge for us,” Quartlebaum said. “We know how he plays, but he knows how we play, too. It should be a good battle.”

Many players are familiar with the other team, as well. Middleton is friends with LHS sophomore Zeke Mayo and senior Brett Chapple. It just adds even more to the crosstown clash between two competitive teams.

It is also happening later in the season than expected, as the contest was slated to take place on Jan. 22 at Allen Fieldhouse, before being postponed due to inclement weather. Because of the schedule change, the game will now take place in The Jungle, LHS’ gym, instead.

“I’m looking forward to this game,” King said. “We can’t show no mercy, we just have to play our game and not worry about them. We can be friends after.”

The girls game will kick things off for both schools, as both teams are coming off tough losses, as well.

Lawrence (9-6, 4-3 Sunflower League) gave up a late lead in a 44-43 road loss to Shawnee Mission West. Free State (7-9, 2-6) was unable to complete a comeback bid in a 57-47 overtime loss to Shawnee Mission South.

The Firebirds could be without starting center Haley Hippe, who missed the previous contest with an injury. It would make things even more difficult for Free State, as it attempts to contain Lawrence’s 6-foot-3 center Chisom Ajekwu, a KU signee, in the paint.

“She’s been a scoring product in our offense, and as a big,” Hippe said. “She’s one of our only bigs, so that takes a toll on what we do.”

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lawrence High guard Hannah Stewart (1) and Free State guard Caely Kesten (13) scramble for a loose ball during a City Showdown on Feb. 24, 2017.

Still, Free State would love nothing more than to end its losing skid in the City Showdown.

The Lions have won the previous five meetings with the Firebirds, including a 15-point victory in Allen Fieldhouse last year.

Even though Kesten hasn’t grown up in Lawrence, she understands how significant this game is for those teammates who have. Free State starters Shannon Clarke, Evy Harrell and Sam Lawrence will all be crucial in trying to put the streak to an end.

“We haven’t won against them, so that is big for us,” Kesten said. “Especially because my teammates have friends on that team. I’m just going to my put my heart and soul into it for them.”

For the Lions, the senior class would love nothing more than to end their careers with a perfect record against a familiar foe. Ajekwu, along with seniors Sammy Williams, Hannah Stewart, Leslie Ostronic and Evann Seratte, will look to keep that flawless clip intact.

“It is bittersweet,” Stewart said. “It is not a bigger deal, but it is definitely a bittersweet moment. It is definitely going to be fun.”

More than that, though, the Lions pride themselves on protecting their home court.

Before the season, Lawrence made a goal to win every home game this year. LHS lost the season opener to Topeka High at home, but has won all five of its games played in The Jungle ever since.

“It is a comforting place to play, so it will be important to slow down and focus on us,” Williams said.


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