By BRETT MARSHALL
HUTCHINSON — Every coach has this hope in preparation before a championship test that their team will execute a game-plan to perfection.
Scott City boys basketball coach Glenn O'Neil needs to look no further than the first 7 minutes, 27 seconds of Saturday night's Class 3A state championship game against Nemaha Valley for such hope to be realized.
It was in that time frame that the Beavers, the defending champions, put the Raiders into such a deep hole that the No. 2-seeded team could never climb out.
The result was a resounding 61-47 victory for the Beavers at the Hutchinson Sports Arena that produced the school's fourth state championship and the third for O'Neil in his 16 years at the Scott City helm.
With just 33 seconds left in the first quarter, the Beavers' hot start had left the Raiders stunned, confused and looking for answers to a 15-0 blitz by O'Neil's squad.
"It's as good as I've seen a team, not just my teams, play to start a game," O'Neil said. "Nemaha is an explosive team and I thought they looked a little nervous during warmups, not being in the championship game before, and our kids looked confident from the start."
Nemaha Valley coach Jon Thomas was more succinct in his assessment of the nightmare that he witnessed.
"We've trailed before, led before, but we've never been that deep (in a hole) and not that early," said the Raiders' coach. "We watched two teams try to defend them with man-to-man. We tried a zone, and obviously it didn't work. Before you knew it, we were down 20-3."
It was 18-3 at the end of the opening eight minutes. Here's how it looked on a stats sheet:
A 5-second count for a turnover on the Raiders' first possession. Another turnover that was followed by a Scott City blocked shot. Two more miscues. Five consecutive trips down the floor with missed shots, including two more blocks. Another miss and finally — at last to end the onslaught — a 3-point bucket by Alex Hermesch with 33 ticks left on the clock got the Raiders on the board. Brett O'Neil answered with own 3-pointer with 22 seconds left and the Beavers made a final defensive stop on the quarter's final possession to finish it off ahead by 15, 18-3.
Included in the Beavers' fast start was a reverse layup and follow shot by Joey Meyer, a short jumper in the lane by Drew Kite and three 3-pointers by senior Braeden Robinson, who lit up the Raiders from behind the arc.
"Braeden is the type of shooter that when he makes his first one, his confidence goes sky-high," O'Neil said of his lone senior starter. "He did the same thing last year and just came up big for us not only with his shooting, but his floor game and defense."
The Beavers would build the lead to as much as 22, 29-7, just past the midway point of the second quarter and finished off the first half still up by 15 when Nemaha Valley made an 8-1 run in the final 2:51, making it 30-15 at the break.
"It was the same story as Friday night, we couldn't hit anything in the first half," Thomas said of his Raiders. "So we saw other teams come from behind and felt like we could, too. We talked about it at halftime, but we just couldn't get close enough to make that final run."
The only uncomfortable moment came in the first four minutes of the third quarter when Nemaha opened with a 7-2 spree, cutting the lead to 10, 32-22, before the Beavers righted their ship with a 12-7 finish to maintain its 15-point bulge at the end of the third quarter.
That was it.
There was no final push by the Raiders. The 14-point final margin was as close as the Beavers let the Raiders get. Their biggest lead in the final eight minutes was 18.
Unlike 2011, when the Beavers needed a last-second putback shot by Ron Baker to defeat Minneapolis, 55-53, to claim their title, there was no heroics needed at the end. They simply came down the court on the final possession, dribbled away the final 40 seconds and then celebrated at mid-court.
The Beavers have made the case all season that their pursuit of defending the 2011 title was all about being balanced. Unlike a year ago when it was the all-stater Baker leading the scoring parade with 26 points and only Brett O'Neil's 13 points the other double-digit scorer, this time it was four players reaching double figures.
Robinson shared team-high honors with Meyer with 13 points while Kite added 12 and O'Neil tacked on 11.
"We were just sharing the ball and distributing it to whoever was open," Meyer said. "That's how we knew we needed to play and we had it going pretty good."
Brett O'Neil, the oldest of two sons playing for their coach/father, also said the performance reflected the team effort that characterized their 25-1 season.
"The first one was really great, right now this feels sweeter," Brett O'Neil said. "Everybody doubted us after Ron graduated. Ron was a great player and we all appreciated what he did for us. This one shows our balance and it has been the key to our success."
The older O'Neil brother also said the team's fast start was ignited by its defense.
"That's what got us started, the defense," O'Neil said. "That relaxed us and I thought Nemaha looked like they were the deer in the headlights and we were driving the car. Our game is always a game of runs and ours are usually bigger than the other team, so we usually win. That's how it happened."
That team effort was reflected in the fact the Beavers ripped the nets at a 56.4 percent clip on 22-of-39 shots. Of those 22 made baskets, 17 of them came on assists from a teammate, with O'Neil leading that parade with 10. Nemaha Valley (23-3) was held in check, finishing just 13-of-42 for 31 percent. The Raiders did make 18-of-25 free throws, including 15-of-21 in the second half.
Of the big three scorers for the Raiders, only the 6-3 senior Hermesch did any damage, finishing with a game-high 20 points but made only 5-of-16 field goals. Their other two top offensive threats — Trent Olberding and Creighton Brinker — struggled with just 2 and 6 points, making only 2-of-15 field goals.
"Our goal was to shut down two of them," coach O'Neil said. "We knew if we could limit their three players and only have one score, we'd have a good shot."
In the consolation third-place game, Central Heights handled Rock Creek, 61-49, after jumping out to a 34-14 halftime lead.
On the girls side of things, Silver Lake went to overtime, rallying from a double-digit deficit to produce a stunning 51-47 victory over Burlington. Hillsboro girls claimed third place for the second straight year with a 42-38 triumph over Atchison County.
Notes: Scott City won its first state title in 1958 as a Class A school when there were just four classes in Kansas high schools. The Beavers won again in 2006, O'Neil's first title and then won a year ago. Of the 12 players dotting the Beavers roster, 10 are underclassmen. Ron Baker was in attendance at the game, taking a day off from his red-shirt season at Wichita State University.
Nemaha Valley 3 12 14 18 -- 47
Scott City 18 12 14 17 -- 61
Nemaha Valley (23-3) — Meyer 2-3 1-2 5, McKernan 3-6 4-6 11, D. Olberding 0-1 0-0 0, Z. Rottinghaus 0-0 0-0 0, T. Olberding 1-9 0-0 2, Hermesch 5-16 8-8 20, Brinker 1-6 4-7 6. Totals 13-42 18-25 47.
Scott City (25-1) --B. O'Neil 3-6 4-6 11, T. O'Neil 3-5 0-0 6, Robinson 3-6 4-4 13, Hess 1-3 1-4 3, Habiger 1-1 1-2 3, Wilson 0-0 0-0 0, Meyer 6-9 1-1 13, Kite 5-9 2-2 12. Totals 22-39 13-19 61.
3-point goals--Nemaha Valley 3-13 (McKernan 1-4, T. Olberding 0-2, A. Hermesch 2-7), Scott City 4-8 (B. O'Neil 1-1, T. O'Neil 0-1, Robinson 3-5, Hess 0-1). Rebounds--Nemaha Valley 23 (Brinker 8), Scott City 32 (Meyer, Kite 8 each). Fouls--Nemaha Valley 17, Scott City 24. Fouled out--Scott City (T. O'Neil, Kite). Assists--Nemaha Valley 5 (5 with 1 each), Scott City 17 (B. O'Neil 10). Turnovers--Nemaha Valley 10, Scott City 14. Blocked shots--Nemaha Valley 3 (Brinker 2), Scott City 2 (T. O'Neil, Hess 1 each). Steals--Nemaha Valley 5 (Meyer, Hermesch 2 each), Scott City 4 (T. O'Neil 2).