Stakes are high for both FSHS and LHS in highly anticipated City Showdown

photo by: File photo

Free State's Ethan Lincoln (21) defends Lawrence High's Zeke Mayo (2) in the City Showdown at Lawrence High School, February 11, 2019.

The buzz around this year’s City Showdown was palpable nearly 72 hours before tipoff.

While fielding questions about this year’s crosstown clash, which is slated to take place at 8 p.m. today at Allen Fieldhouse, there was an extra sense of focus for members of both Free State and Lawrence High boys basketball teams.

“It’s been on our mind for sure,” Free State senior Ethan Lincoln said while leaning against the wall outside the locker room just moments after Tuesday’s win over Shawnee Mission North.

Given the recent history of both boys basketball programs, the City Showdown has become a state tournament-type battle on an annual basis. After all, both teams have advanced to the Class 6A state tournament in each of the last three seasons.

But this year’s showdown is especially magnified for a multitude of reasons. For one, both squads are considered top-tier teams in the state. The Lions (14-3, 8-1 Sunflower League) are ranked No. 5 in Class 6A, while the Firebirds (13-4, 8-1 Sunflower League) come in one spot behind them at No. 6.

It is a matchup that also has plenty of postseason implications, with only three games remaining in the regular season. LHS is the No. 2 seed in the 6A West, while Free State is at No. 3. The top-four teams in the division will have the opportunity to host both sub-state games.

“I think it’s just the timing,” FSHS coach Sam Stroh said. “Sometimes we play this in December, but now a little more is on the line just because you know where you stand at the end of the season in terms of league and sub-state. It will be a challenge for us on Friday, and I think our guys are looking forward to it.”

The outcome could have a huge impact on determining the Sunflower League champion. Entering today, both Lawrence and Free State are tied for first place with an 8-1 record against league foes. No other Sunflower League team has fewer than three losses.

LHS won the Sunflower League title last year, which was the team’s first league crown since the 2014-15 season. FSHS, meanwhile, won the league title in back-to-back years during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons.

“It doesn’t make or break our season,” LHS head coach Mike Lewis said. “It’s a great community game. We’ll be relaxed and we’ll be loose and we’ll be having fun. And hopefully enjoy a good Friday night of basketball.”

It doesn’t hurt that both basketball teams are playing exceptionally well as of late.

Lawrence hasn’t lost since Jan. 7, having won 11 games in a row and a midseason tournament since then. Over that span, LHS has won nine of those contests by at least 14 points and posted an average margin of victory of 18.4 points during its streak.

“It’s crazy because we’ve been talking about this for the past four years because we’ve been playing together since we were freshmen,” LHS senior Mayson Quartlebaum said. “We’re just all seizing the moment of being able to play together.”

Quartlebaum, a Kennesaw State signee, is one of the many seniors responsible for this impressive run by the Lions. Bryce Johnson, Peyton Mallory, Valdez White, Ruben Littlehead along with junior Zeke Mayo have contributed to an offense averaging 66 points per game. Only two teams in 6A West are averaging more points this season.

Lawrence’s high-octane offense will be put to the test against a Free State team committed to playing well on the defensive end. The Firebirds only allow 46 points per outing, a mark that leads all of Class 6A.

It is a big reason why FSHS has won 10 of its previous 12 games, including four in a row since falling to Olathe East at home on Feb. 4.

“We came in with a big head like we were going to beat them, and they hit us in the mouth,” senior DK Middleton said. “Now we don’t take any games off. We just have to play hard every game.”

Free State’s depth has really been on display over this recent win streak, too. Middleton and Lincoln along with sophomore point Mozae Downing-Rivers, junior Andrew Piper and senior Olin Yoder help set the tone as starters. But the bench play is what separates FSHS from its foes.

Junior Miles Branch, a transfer from Bishop Seabury, has provided valuable minutes as a reserve with his interior presence. Kris Daniels, Dash Hawkins, Wyatt Durland, Tate Fanshier and Alyus Wisdom have all made an impact on the defensive end in their minutes off the bench.

As a result, the two contrasting squads should lead to a compelling contest in the lone crosstown clash of the regular season.

“I’m definitely going to come out harder than I ever have just because it’s my last one,” Quartlebaum said. “But I think we’re all just treating it like just another game.”

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