Free State boys top Gardner-Edgerton to clinch share of Sunflower League title
photo by: Shane Jackson
Free State’s boys basketball team knew what was at stake in the regular-season finale.
Despite the slow start, Free State accomplished what it set out to do from the very beginning of the season: win the Sunflower League title. With a 74-48 victory over Gardner Edgerton on Friday night at FSHS, the Firebirds finished in a three-way tie for first place in the league standings with Lawrence High and Olathe West.
With a share this season, Free State has now won three of the last four league titles.
“I’m proud of our guys,” FSHS head coach Sam Stroh said. “Winning the league three of the last four years is tough to do. When you think about the seniors, that is a pretty good thing to put on your high school basketball career.”
The celebration really began midway through the fourth quarter, and with the game well out of reach.
Stroh was able to pull his key players in the final four-plus minutes of the fourth period to get his guys some much-needed rest with postseason play on deck. The starters never lost interest in the game, however.
Senior reserve Tate Fanshier netted a pair of baskets in the final minutes, including a triple. Junior Michael Uhler also splashed a 3-pointer in the final minute in front of the FSHS bench, which celebrated all three baskets in animated fashion.
For a Free State team that has experienced so many close battles this year, it was a welcoming change to get other athletes some playing time in a blowout.
“We played a lot of guys,” Stroh said. “Our JV team had a good year; it was good to see those guys get in there at the end.”
But all of that was in question from the start, when the Firebirds (15-5, 10-2 Sunflower League) dug themselves into an early hole.
Gardner Edgerton (4-13, 1-8) scored the first 7 points, and Stroh had to burn a timeout within the first minute of the game. The Trailblazers eventually had a 10-2 lead before the Firebirds finally woke up.
Senior DK Middleton got things started with a powerful and-one sequence to cut the deficit in half. Sophomore Dash Hawkins then came through with back-to-back baskets to bring Free State to life.
To end the first quarter, senior Olin Yoder connected on a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make it a single-possession game.
Trailing 15-13 after the opening period, FSHS eventually took full control of the contest. The Firebirds ended the first half on an 8-0 run, which included a trio of baskets from junior center Andrew Piper.
Free State pulled away with a 21-point effort in the third quarter. Piper finished with a team-high 12 points, while Yoder added in 10 points. Middleton, Hawkins, Mozae Downing-Rivers and Miles Branch all ended up with at least 7 points.
It was a valiant effort for the Firebirds, who have now won two games in a row since falling to Lawrence in the City Showdown. Free State will find out its postseason seeding on Saturday, but it will likely be a top-four seed and have the opportunity to host both substate games.
When it comes to postseason play, though, Stroh knows that his team can’t face a deficit like it did on Friday.
“Next week, we (will) go home if we start the game like that,” Stroh said. “We need to respond better than that, especially when a league title was on the line.”
Gardner Edgerton (48)
Ethan Reynolds 2-4 0-0 4, Reggie Dennis 3-7 2-2 8, Preston Rohr 3-3 3-3 0-0 7, Jake McClure 1-3 0-0 3, Carter Dewey 4-8 3-4 13, Teven McKelvey 3-8 4-5 11, Kellen Kueser 1-2 0-0 2, Tyler Butash 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 17-36 9-11 48.
Free State (74)
Mozae Downing-Rivers 2-5 3-7 7, Ethan Lincoln 2-2 0-0 6, DK Middlton 4-8 1-1 9, Andrew Piper 6-7 0-0 12, Olin Yoder 2-5 4-4 10, Dash Hawkins 3-5 0-0 7, Kris Daniels 1-3 1-1 2, Miles Branch 3-3 2-2 8, Alyus Wisdom 1-3 1-2 3, Tate Fanshier 2-3 1-2 6, Michael Uhler 1-1 0-0 3. Totals: 27-45 13-19 74.
Gardner 15 7 12 14 — 48
Free State 13 17 21 23 — 74
3-point goals: GE 5-13 (Rohr, McClure, Dewey 2, McKelvey); FS 7-12 (Lincoln 2, Yoder 2, Hawkins, Fanshier, Uhler). Turnovers: GE 11; FS 13. Fouled out: Branch, FS.