By BRETT MARSHALL
Nobody is happier to be playing Wednesday's 6 p.m. Class 6A sub-state semifinal game at home than third-year Garden City High School boys coach Jacy Holloway.
The Buffs' first home postseason game in recent memory will see a 2-18 Wichita South arrive in town for tipoff at the New Garden.
The fact that the Buffaloes (13-7) were awarded the No. 2 overall seed in the two, four-team brackets to determine state qualifiers is only icing on the cake to the most successful season at GCHS since 2007, when the team advanced to the state tournament, and back to 2003 when the team won 11 regular season games before peaking in the postseason, making a run to the 6A state tournament, winning two games and finishing third and posting a 15-9 record.
But the way the Buffs earned the No. 2 seed was not without some controversy, through no fault of Holloway or his team.
When the winter storm wreaked havoc on all of Kansas last week, Liberal opted not to play its regular season finale at home against Dodge City. The school's administration had cancelled classes that day and determined that if there were no classes, there would be no game.
The result of that decision left the Red Demons, owners of two 15-point victories over the Buffs in the regular season, with a 12-7 record and due to the best winning percentage being awarded the higher seed, the Buffs came out on top.
"I'm sure there are some after-effects of all that," Holloway said on Monday. "But we've got a game on Wednesday to get ready for, and I think everyone's focused and getting ready."
The Buffs completed their regular season a week ago with a 63-34 thumping of Liberal to nail down that all-important 13th victory. It was just the kind of game that Holloway said his team needed heading into postseason play.
"Even though we're pretty road-tested, I think getting a home game is a big factor for us in this game," Holloway said. "A lot of the Wichita schools didn't want to schedule us during the regular season because of the distance, so if we get one of them to come out our way for postseason, I think it's an advantage for us."
The visiting South Titans' only two wins have come against non-Wichita City League opponents Buhler and Arkansas City, both Class 5A schools. But Holloway, with his vast basketball background of playing on four state championship teams at Moundridge and then playing at Iowa State University, said he's not taking anybody lightly.
"We're good enough to be competitive with most teams, but we're not good enough that we can overlook anyone either," Holloway said. "We've worked in practice getting ready, and I think the kids are ready to get back out there and play. It's been a longer break than I would prefer at this stage of the season."
While the Buffs have no big-time scorers on the team — senior Bo Banner leads the way with a 10.9 average — they do have three other players who average around 9 points. Those are Austin Terpstra (9.5), Tristan Nanninga (8.9) and Hunter Delgado (8.7). Caleb Tramp (5.7) and Emilio Parr (4.6) provide the Buffs with some scoring depth that Holloway says has been a strength of the team all season.
"I like the fact that we can go eight, nine deep and not have much of a dropoff," Holloway said. "We've got players who can play more than one position, which gives us some flexibility."
Holloway said he has seen the team play well, but believes the Buffs have yet to put together a complete game.
"We've played well at times, and I think we've done some good things transitioning from defense to offense, but we haven't had everybody clicking on all cylinders at the same time," Holloway said. "I think if that happens, we can be a pretty darned good team."
On the other side of the sub-state bracket sits Dodge City and Maize (8-12) which will also play Wednesday in Dodge City. Either way, if the Buffs take care of business on Wednesday, they're back home at 7 p.m. Friday for the sub-state championship with a berth in the 6A state tourney in Wichita from March 6 to 9 on the line.
It's been a gradual progression for Holloway and the Buffs' program since he took over from Jeff Tanner in 2010-11. His first team went 8-13 and a year ago they were 9-12. This year's GCHS junior varsity finished 19-3 and the freshmen 17-2.
"I like the fact our seniors are focused on the postseason and are tuned in," Holloway said. "In the past, we've had seniors who couldn't wait for the season to get over. That's not the case this time. They're learning how to win, and I think they recognize that what we're doing does work, and it's been a big confidence booster. We'll be losing some key players, but we've got a good nucleus of returners, and I think the program is definitely on the upswing."
The seniors who have helped resurrect the Buffs' program, in addition to Terpstra and Banner, are Denton Keller and Evan Riggs,
"They've stuck with it, and I really believe that is why we've had a pretty good season," Holloway said. "They're not ready to turn in their jerseys just yet. And I'm not ready for the season to be over."