Rested Firebirds soar over Gardner Edgerton, 71-38
photo by: Chance Parker
Gardner — All that time off over the past 34 days appeared to serve Free State High’s boys basketball team well Friday night at Gardner-Edgerton.
With fresh legs and the excitement of finally playing a game again fueling their efforts, the Firebirds blew by GEHS, 71-38.
“Our guys bring energy,” head coach Sam Stroh said afterward. “We talked about the last four days, we’ve got to bring the home environment anytime we’re on the road. I thought they did a good job with that.”
Free State’s top seven rotation players — Kris Daniels, Mozae Downing, Jailen Thompson, Andrew Piper, Cooper Jackson, Cole Wheeler and Dash Hawkins — controlled the game so well that Stroh turned to his deep reserves soon into the fourth quarter.
When Downing (12 points) put up two swift buckets inside with ease to open the final quarter, Free State’s lead ballooned to more than 30, igniting a running clock.
“I just liked the way they competed,” Stroh said, following his team’s first game since Dec. 5. “I thought from the opening tip they competed pretty well.”
While Stroh pointed to some mental lapses with turnovers or botched scouting assignments, the Firebirds (2-1), who are ranked No. 9 in Class 6A, mostly overwhelmed the Blazers (0-4).
A 37-22 halftime advantage kept growing in the third quarter, when Hawkins, who scored 13 points off the bench, couldn’t miss. The backup guard rose up with confidence time and again over defenders, connecting on a pair of three-pointers and going a perfect three-for-three from the floor in the third and 5-for-6 on the evening.
The Firebirds set themselves up for an enjoyable return, far removed from their December quarantine, with a dominating second quarter. Daniels, Downing, Thompson and Piper each scored at least twice and the offense clicked (9-for-15 shooting) as they shared the basketball.
“When the ball touches Piper’s hands, good things happen,” Stroh said. “Either he scores, or we get it inside-out. I liked our ball movement in the second quarter compared to the first.”
What was a relatively tight game throughout the first quarter evolved into a Friday night in control for Free State just a few minutes into the second. When GEHS opened the period with a half-court zone, the Firebirds executed to perfection.
When Daniels connected on his second three-pointer of the second quarter, FSHS led 25-11 with 6:06 to play in the first half.
An active FSHS defense overwhelmed the Blazers in the first quarter. Daniels drew a charge and Jackson and Hawkins made a habit of flying around to create deflections, frequently leading to steals for the visitors.
Said Downing: “In practice we really emphasize energy, energy, energy, and playing with tempo, and working together. It really puts everybody in a good mood and helps everybody play together.”
Jackson knocked down a 3-pointer in the first quarter, as did Hawkins, who scored five points off the bench in the opening period.
Six different Firebirds scored in the first quarter, and FSHS took a 17-11 lead into the second once Wheeler banked in a 3-pointer in the final seconds.
The Blazers took a brief 7-4 lead at the 3:47 mark of the opening quarter, when Conner Elder checked in off the bench to drain a 3-pointer. However, Stroh followed the shot with a timeout, and FSHS executed out of the break to get Jackson open for a 3-pointer of his own that tied the game at seven.
The Firebirds wasted no time asserting themselves defensively. Steals by Jackson and Downing in the game’s opening minutes put GEHS in a quick 4-0 hole.
Downing, who said it was “great” to finally play again, predicted the Firebirds will still have their legs and energy when they get back at it Saturday at Grandview, Mo.
Free State 71, GEHS 38
Free State (71)
Kris Daniels 3-6 0-0 9, Mozae Downing 6-10 0-1 12, Jailen Thompson 6-9 0-1 12, Andrew Piper 4-9 1-2 9, Cooper Jackson 2-9 0-0 6, Cole Wheeler 1-3 2-2 5, Dash Hawkins 5-6 0-0 13, Justin Hicks 1-1 0-1 3, Emmanuel Epelle 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 29-55 FGs 3-7 FTs 71 points.
Gardner Edgerton (38)
Ethan Reynolds 2-5 3-4 7, Kellen Kueser 2-3 0-2 4, Tyler Butash 3-4 0-0 6, Ivan Jalabomy 0-3 0-0 0, Jake McClure 3-10 1-2 7, Conner Elder 2-3 2-3 8, Malaki Taylor 1-5 2-2 4, Mitch Mauk 1-4 0-2 2. Totals 14-37 FGs 8-15 FTs 38 points.
FSHS 17 20 20 14 — 71
GEHS 11 11 6 10 — 38
Three-point goals: FSHS 10-18 (Daniels 3, Hawkins 3, Jackson 2, Wheeler, Hicks); GEHS 2-11 (Elder 2). Fouled out: None.