Editor's Note: This is the final in a series of 10 stories counting down The Telegram's top 10 sports stories of 2011 as chosen by The Telegram staff.
By BRETT MARSHALL
State high school basketball championships just don't occur every year from the southwest Kansas schools that comprise The Telegram's 12-county, 19-school readership area.
And when two of those schools produce titles in their respective classifications, it truly is a rare accomplishment.
So when Scott City and Greeley County produced boys state championships in Class 3A and Class 1A-II in March, there was cause for celebration and to appreciation for those championships.
One has to go back more than 50 years, 1958 in fact, to find two area schools that produced state titles in the same season. That was Scott City (Class A when there were four classes) and Rolla, the Class BB champs that year.
For most of the 2010-2011 season, Scott City was ranked among the state's elite in Class 3A so it was no surprise that they headed to Hutchinson's Sports Arena with a load of enthusiasm and talent, epitomized by the leadership of senior Ron Baker.
The 6-2 do-everything guard keyed the Beavers all season and his performance in the championship game, a stirring 55-53 win over Minneapolis, was one for the memory books.
He capped off a stellar prep career with 26 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, three steals and three blocked shots. More importantly, though, he grabbed the rebound from a missed Brett O'Neil baseline shot and put it back in with 2.6 seconds remaining for the winning basket.
"I guess it's just luck sometimes that you're in the right place," Baker said in the aftermath of the Beavers' third state championship. "You dream about this as a kid. It's what I've dreamed of being able to play for since I can remember."
Minneapolis had tied the score at 53-all with 22.1 seconds remaining and the Lions then called timeout, providing coach Glenn O'Neil an opportunity to draw up a play that would give the Beavers the best chance to win it in regulation.
"I looked at Ron and said, 'you're the senior, you're the all-stater, go make a play," the Beavers' coach said afterward. "It wasn't exactly the way we drew it up, but he was in the right place at the right time and made the play. That's what great players do."
Baker said he found O'Neil in the corner for an open jumper.
"I read the flight of the ball and knew it was coming off short," Baker recalled days later. "Mason (Turner) tipped it and I adjusted my hands. I was really surprised I got it as easily as I did. It was just good fortune."
Baker got the rebound, moved in for a mostly uncontested layup with 2.6 ticks left on the clock. Minneapolis could not get the ball inbounds and downcourt for a final shot to win or tie the game.
What made the championship even sweeter is what transpired in the Friday night semifinals when the Beavers dethroned two-time defending 3A champion Wichita Collegiate, 62-59. The Spartans had been a nemesis for Scott City football and basketball teams in recent years.
"This is like getting the elephant off our back," said Baker of beating the Spartans, a team that had beaten them in 2007 for the state title on the same floor. Collegiate also eliminated the Beavers from the 2009 state football playoffs with a last-minute game-winning touchdown drive in the quarterfinals. "This one goes into the 'best' category."
The Beavers finished the season 25-1 with their lone setback coming at the hands of Class 6A Dodge City in the championship game of the Tournament of Champions on the Red Demons' home floor. Baker would later be recognized as The Telegram's Player of the Year and O'Neil garnering coach of the year honors.
It had been nearly a half century since the Jackrabbits, then Tribune High School, had won a state title in basketball.
It was 1968 when the Jackrabbits claimed the Class B state championship and many of those players and coaches were in the stands at Gross Memorial Coliseum at Fort Hays State University to watch the championship game against Hope.
The Kansas State High School Activities Association was celebrating 100 years of boys basketball tournaments and coach Jeff Starkey's Jackrabbits finished it off in style.
With senior Jonathan Miller, a two-time Telegram All-Area selection leading the way, the 'Rabbits rallied from a 15-point second-half deficit to defeat the Wildcats, 42-35, and walked off the floor with the championship trophy in hand.
The group of seniors that paved the way for the win produced 89 victories under Starkey during their four years of high school competition. The win against Hope was the biggest of them all.
"They played big for me all year and the seniors got on fire," Starkey said following the victory.
The Jackrabbits, the tourney's top seed coming in, struggled from the outset of the game. They trailed 7-2 after one quarter and were down 18-9 at the half.
At the 3:32 mark of the third quarter and trailing 29-14, the Jackrabbits employed a fullcourt press and the tide turned in their favor. By quarter's end, they were down by 10, 31-21.
Capping off an amazing 20-4 run, Greeley County finally took the lead at 34-33 with just over three minutes remaining in the game. With seniors Miller and Stephen Houston knocking down eight straight free throws, the Jackrabbits extended their lead over the Wildcats to capture the title.
"Part of the reason we didn't press earlier, is that we normally don't need it," Starkey said. "It was a surprise to them and I think we caught them off guard and they played a little tighter with the lead."
Chaz Schneider celebrated the victory with his father, Brad, who was a member of that 1968 championship team.
"All year we knew we could do it," Schneider said of his team that finished 23-3 and won its final 21 games. "It was pretty neat to do with all the people watching who won it in 1968."
In December of 2010, the Jackrabbits found themselves with a 2-3 won-loss record. That mark, though, was deceiving. They had lost two games in the Scott City Invitational, one to eventual 3A champion Scott City and another to private school Wichita Defenders. The third loss came against Class 2A power Syracuse, a state tournament entry itself.
From that point forward, though, the Jackrabbits never tasted defeat.
Starkey was honored as the co-coach of the year by The Telegram with Scott City's O'Neil and by the end of the school year had accepted the athletic director/boys basketball coach positions at Atchison Community High School in Effingham.