Firebirds fall to Blue Valley Northwest, but fortunate to play in state tourney

photo by: Shane Jackson

Free State senior DK Middleton drives past a Blue Valley Northwest defender during the opening round of the Class 6A state tournament on Thursday at Wichita State University on March 12, 2020.

Wichita — The result might not have been what Free State’s boys basketball team wanted, but sometimes it is bigger than what takes place on the hardwood.

Free State had every chance to knock off three-time state champion Blue Valley Northwest during the opening round of the Class 6A state tournament on Thursday inside Koch Arena at Wichita State University. Instead, the Firebirds never could fully complete the comeback in a 55-48 loss to the Huskies.

Yet, considering that many events like the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments were canceled due to the threat of coronavirus, FSHS understood it was fortunate to get a chance to play basketball in the first place.

“It is a tough way to go out,” FSHS head coach Sam Stroh said. “All things considered, this was just a basketball game. I told them NBA and college players aren’t playing right now, and we still are. (We need to) cherish the moments.”

While most events were being canceled on Thursday, KSHSAA decided to let the quarterfinals take place. The state tournaments were then canceled at every level across the state after the conclusion of the opening round.

The Firebirds, who have been to the state tourney four years in a row, weren’t even certain they would have the opportunity to play when they were on their way to Wichita.

“I can’t believe we played to be honest,” Stroh said. “Coach (Bill) Self wasn’t allowed to coach today and we were. NBA is not playing. States around us were canceling. Hopefully, everything works out here and who knows what will happen the rest of the weekend.”

But it was something the Free State senior class of Ethan Lincoln, Wyatt Durland, DK Middleton, Tate Fanshier, Alyus Wisdom and Olin Yoder didn’t take for granted when they finally took the floor for what would end up being the last time of their high school careers.

“I was pretty happy that we got to play,” Lincoln said. “I know a lot of other people aren’t given the same opportunity. A lot of seniors don’t have any more seasons left, and we can’t take that for granted.”

All of that culminated into a strong start by the Firebirds (17-6), who jumped out to a 7-0 lead within the first two minutes of the game. Yoder drilled a 3-pointer, while sophomore Mozae Downing-Rivers and Middleton each recorded a basket.

The Huskies (21-2) answered with a strong stretch of their own, taking a 13-11 advantage at the end of the opening period. Blue Valley Northwest eventually had a 28-11 lead with 2:36 left in the second period following a 19-0 run.

The Firebirds were forced to play from behind from there. Still, Free State made things interesting against a team that hasn’t lost a postseason game since 2016.

Rivers, who led the team with 14 points, fueled a 7-0 run by Free State to close the first half and keep the deficit at 10 points. The Firebirds then finished off the third period with 8 unanswered points, including a pair of tough baskets by junior Miles Branch, to make it a single-possession game entering the final period.

Free State never could get over the hump in the final quarter, however, as Blue Valley Northwest closed things out with 18 points during the last eight minutes of the game. Jack Chapman paced the Huskies with 21 points.

Lincoln was the only other Firebird to finish in double figures, adding 10 points on a pair of triples.

“They are a tough team,” Lincoln said. “They are an experienced group, and we just couldn’t put it together.”

Free State (48)

Mozae Downing-Rivers 6-10 0-0 14, Ethan Lincoln 4-9 0-1 10, DK Middleton 1-11 0-2 2, Andrew Piper 2-6 0-0 4, Olin Yoder 1-2 3-3 6, Miles Branch 3-8 0-0 6, Kris Daniels 0-0 0-0 0, Tate Fanshier 2-4 0-0 4, Dash Hawkins 1-1 0-0 2, Wyatt Durland 0-1 0-0 0, Alyus Wisdom 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 20-52 3-6 48.

Blue Valley NW (55)

Alston Mason 3-7 2-2 9, Joseph Robinson 1-3 4-4 7, Jack Chapman 7-14 7-11 21, Benjamin Fritz 3-7 1-4 7, Markell Hood 3-8 0-0 7, Michael Pauley 1-1 0-2 2, Nicholas Sullivan 1-1 0-0 2, Sam Stewart 0-0 0-0 0, Luke Blau 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 19-41 14-23 55.

Free State 11 7 16 14 — 48

Blue Valley NW 13 15 9 18 — 55

3-point goals: FS 5-12 (Rivers 2, Lincoln 2, Yoder); BVNW 3-11 (Mason, Robinson, Hood). Turnovers: FS 10, BVNW 9. Fouled out: None.

Remaining teams before state basketball tournaments were canceled

Class 6A boys

No. 1 Campus (23-0)

No. 3 Blue Valley Northwest (21-2)

No. 4 Blue Valley North (20-3)

No. 7 Olathe South (17-6)

Class 6A girls

No. 1 Liberal (23-0)

No. 2 Topeka (23-0)

No. 4 Derby (21-2)

No. 6 Olathe East (18-5)

Class 5A boys

No. 1 Andover (23-0)

No. 2 Basehor-Linwood (21-2)

No. 3 Hays (16-6)

No. 5 Kapaun Mt. Carmel (17-6)

Class 5A girls

No. 1 McPherson (22-1)

No. 2 Andover Central (22-1)

No. 3 Topeka Seaman (20-3)

No. 4 St. Thomas Aquinas (18-4)

Class 4A boys

No. 2 KC Piper (22-1)

No. 3 Bishop Miege (19-4)

No. 4 Augusta (19-4)

No. 8 Rose Hill (13-10)

Class 4A girls

No. 1 Nickerson (21-2)

No. 3 KC Piper (21-2)

No. 4 Bishop Miege (21-2)

No. 7 Clay Center (16-6)

Class 3A boys

No. 2 Collegiate (21-3)

No. 3 Beloit (21-3)

No. 4 Galena (19-5)

No. 8 St. Marys (14-10)

Class 3A girls

No. 1 Nemaha Central (24-0)

No. 2 Frontenac (22-2)

No. 3 Halstead (21-3)

No. 5 Cheney (21-3)

Class 2A boys

No. 2 Bishop Seabury Academy (21-2)

No. 5 Sterling (20-4)

No. 6 Garden Plain (19-5)

No. 8 Hillsboro (15-9)

Class 2A girls

No. 1 Spearville (24-0)

No. 2 Trego (23-1)

No. 4 Valley Heights (22-2)

No. 6 Garden Plain (19-5)

Class 1A boys

No. 2 Little River (23-3)

No. 3 St. John-Hudson (23-3)

No. 5 South Central (21-5)

No. 8 Stockton (15-11)

Class 1A girls

No. 1 Central Plains (26-0)

No. 3 Olpe (26-0)

No. 4 Hanover (24-1)

No. 7 Centralia (19-8)


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