Sam Stroh collects 100th win at FSHS; Firebirds finish off perfect week
photo by: Contributed photo from FSHS
A stylish win over a ranked foe. A perfect record in a week that featured four games, including three in three days. A season-best winning streak. And the 100th victory under the current head coach.
The Free State boys basketball team accomplished all of those achievements in its 59-51 road win over Shawnee Mission South on Saturday.
FSHS (16-2) rallied from an early deficit to overcome the Raiders and claim its eighth win in a row — the longest win streak of this season, passing the previous mark of seven straight games that the Firebirds set earlier in the season. Half of those wins came in the past week alone, a marathon stretch of the schedule that included a slate of three games in three days on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The last two wins came against ranked opponents on back-to-back nights, with Free State (No. 5 in Class 6A) needing overtime to outlast Shawnee Mission East (No. 7 in Class 6A) on Friday before defeating Shawnee Mission South (No. 6 in Class 6A) on Saturday.
“I think our legs finally got underneath us,” FSHS head coach Sam Stroh said after the Firebirds scored 23 points in the fourth quarter to complete the comeback. “We were able to find a way to win.”
To cap it all off, Saturday’s victory marked a milestone for Stroh, as well: the 100th win of his career at Free State. He is now the winningest coach in program history after taking over the program in 2015.
Stroh was quick to credit the players for his success when asked about the milestone. He recalled telling the members of his first team, which featured then-seniors Hunter Gudde and Kristian Rawls, that they were going to help turn the program around.
“I told them we are going to change our ways,” Stroh said. “(I told them) we were going to start putting in the work, find a way to win the Sunflower League and get to state. They set the tone. We were a basket short and a play away from getting (to state) my first year.
Fast-forward six years, and Free State has changed its ways under Stroh. The Firebirds have made it to the state tournament in four consecutive seasons and have won three of the last four Sunflower League titles, as well.
“I credit those seniors, my coaching staff and all the other players who have come after those guys,” Stroh said. “We’ve had a lot of great players and good coaches who put in the hard work. When you put in the hard work, good things happen.
But Stroh has certainly done his part, as evidenced by the team’s ability to rally back from an early deficit against the Raiders. Stroh said he wrote “No excuses” first thing on the board before Saturday’s contest, suggesting that players shouldn’t complain about having tired legs from the night before.
That message was reiterated at halftime after FSHS fell into an early 14-point hole midway through the second quarter, which led to a 27-18 advantage for Shawnee Mission South (11-3) at the intermission.
“I said, ‘Find a way to win,'” Stroh said of his halftime message. “You have 16 minutes and you have tomorrow off.”
And the Firebirds did just that. They switched to a zone defense, which helped limit the opposition to 24 total points over the final two quarters.
On the offensive end, the ball movement was better for Free State. Senior Andrew Piper, who was one of three FSHS players to finish in double figures, was a potent option in the middle. He went 6-for-10 from the floor while also leading the team in rebounds with seven.
“Every time he touched it, something good happened,” Stroh said of Piper.
Junior Cooper Jackson, who poured in 26 points on Friday, followed that up by leading the Firebirds with 19 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the floor against Shawnee Mission South. Senior Dash Cleveland chipped in 11 points on a 3-of-4 clip.
Junior guard Mozae Downing paced Free State with four assists, while sophomore Jailen Thompson tallied a team-high two blocks. Jackson also recorded three of Free State’s nine steals in the game.
“We just stayed composed — kind of like we did last night,” Stroh said. “Nobody was complaining or whining. We were just like, ‘Hey, we got 16 minutes of hard work. Let’s get out there and take care of business.'”
“That’s what they did,” Stroh added.
Free State will travel to Shawnee Mission North at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Free State 10 8 13 28 — 59
SM South 13 14 8 16 — 51
SM South (51)
Erik Smith 8, Jack Webb 9, Harrison Hughes 5, Aaron Brewer 10, Max Close 2, Ike Mcley 6, Blake Potthoff 11.
Free State (59)
Mozae Downing 7, Jailen Thompson 8, Andrew Piper 14, Cooper Jackson 19, Dash Cleveland 11.