Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a series of stories featuring The Telegram’s top 10 sports stories for 2014.
Three area high school basketball teams won sub-states and moved on to theie respective state tournaments this past March.
The Scott City boys finished second in Class 4A-Div.II, while the Holcomb boys and Cimarron girls ended their seasons in the first rounds of the Class 3A tournaments.
The success of their seasons make this The Telegram’s No. 3 sports story of 2014.
Scott City boys
When they walked off the floor after a 71-58 loss to Eudora in the Class 4A-II title game in March, the Scott City Beavers still had much for which to be thankful.
After three previous seasons in which they went 75-3 and won three state Class 3A titles, it was a lot to expect more of the same at the next level, especially after graduating many veteran players and with only one starter returning.
But something happens in Scott City with basketball, and the 2013-14 version nearly went the distance again, just in a different class.
The loss in the title game dropped their record to 21-4. They lost in their season opener, then won 13 straight before dropping two games late in the season, a turning point for them.
Trey O’Neil, the only returning starter, said he gathered his teammates for a players-only meeting after losing to rival Holcomb during what for them was a down time.
“I told them that we needed to play for the community, and that losing was not an option,” he said.
That meeting seemed to ignite the Beavers. They marched through the rest of the regular season, then through sub-state, and dominated Pratt in the first game at state, 71-52.
They fought hard against Concordia in the semifinals, winning 77-75 in overtime. O’Neil had a career-high 31 points in that win.
“Oh my God, it was fun and nerve-wracking at the same time,” junior Brett Meyer said after that game. It was his free throws made with 19 seconds left in the game that sealed the win.
That’s when the team of destiny finally lost some steam in the title game, falling behind by 13 at halftime.
But in Beaver fashion, they fought back to within two at the end of the third, 50-48. They closed to within one point early in the fourth and were within two again with 5:51 to play after Meyer hit a short jumper to cut the lead to 55-53.
But that was the closest they would get. A 10-0 run late by Eudora put the game away.
Coach Glenn O’Neil said the Cardinals were a tough team, but so was his team.
“They’re tough to defend, but I thought the kids fought their hearts out to the end. We just didn’t play as well as you need to,” he said.
Cimarron girls return to state
The Lady Bluejays got to the state tournament for the first time since 2008, the final of a four-year stretch of reaching the sub-state finals each season.
Though their season came to an end in the opening round in an overtime loss to Council Grove, the 22-3 Jays can look back proudly at what they accomplished.
In his nine seasons coaching Cimarron, coach David Ediger has compiled a record of 170-39 (.813). Win No. 170 came over rival Holcomb, 64-48, to win the Class 3A sub-state tournament in front of the home crowd.
Two of his losses had come at the hands of those same Lady Longhorns in the previous two title games, including in 2013 when Holcomb stopped the Jays’ perfect season in the finals.
Leading the way for Cimarron was area player of the year Morgan Ediger, who averaged 16.8 points and seven boards a game. The junior also made 44 percent of her 3-point attempts (53-121) and converted 64 of her 100 free throw attempts.
Senior Ashtynn Burns finished her four-year career as a Bluejay with 1,131 points (423 just last season), second best in school history behind LeAnn Bryant’s 1,677 (1985-88).
This past season, she led the team with 17.6 points a game, hitting 41 treys and converting 145-of-157 free throws (92 percent).
Coach Ediger said their strength of schedule prepared his team for a fight in the postseason, scheduling larger schools like Dodge City (6A), Liberal (5A) and Pratt (4A) during the regular season.
“We learned to guard more than one or two people a night, and we’ve had to execute better on the offensive end because of that,” Ediger said.
That helped when the sub-state pairings came out, with four of the state’s top 10 teams coming to Cimarron (Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 10).
It also helped in the title game against their rivals.
Down 12-6 after the first break, Holcomb took a 24-23 lead with a pair of Kylee Amos free throws with 1:13 left in the second period, before Cimarron took a one-point lead at halftime.
Holcomb tied the game at 28 early in the third, but Morgan Ediger was too much, scoring 12 of her game-high 22 points that quarter.
Burns chipped in 21, including 18 for 20 from the line.
“It’s overwhelming. This is the greatest feeling ever,” Burns said following the game as she prepared for her first state tournament.
Hard luck hit at state, as the Jays fell to Council Grove. They fell behind 27-16 at halftime, but they tied the game to send it to overtime, losing the extra period 11-6 and the game 58-53 to go home early.
Ediger led the Jays with 22 points, 16 of which came in the second half and overtime.
Coach Ediger said afterwards, “I told the girls, don’t hang your heads. We fought hard. I’m really proud of their effort, and they fought all the way back.”
Longhorns make it back to state
For three straight years, Holcomb had reached the sub-state finals, only to lose to Scott City, which went on to win three state titles.
Last season, with the Beavers moving up one class, Holcomb ran through the postseason and qualified for state for the first time since 2009.
And they did it with just one returning starter after graduating seven players.
Heath Tucker, who averaged 15.7 points and 5.6 rebounds a game, was the only proven returner.
But a quality group of athletic players, led by post Trey Sleep (15.7, 5.8), helped propel coach Chad Novack’s team to the postseason.
At 6-1, the Longhorns traveled to Scott City, where they lost by 20 points. After that, they drew the line and lost just one game the rest of the regular season.
They took care of business in the Cimarron sub-state, holding off Cheney 53-50 to cut down the nets.
“It’s about time. That’s all I can say,” Tucker said after the nets came down.
The third quarter featured four lead changes before the ‘Horns took over.
Sleep hit 18 of his game-high 24 points in the second half.
“I feel great for the kids,” Novack said after that game. “They worked hard for this. They deserve this.”
At the Hutchinson Sports Arena, things didn’t go as well, though.
Against Nemaha Valley, Holcomb started out cold, down 11-4 at the end of the first period on 2-for-10 shooting. That deficit continued to 30-18 at halftime.
But as they had done so often in the season, the ‘Horns came back and cut the lead to 50-47 early in the final period, but it was too much to withstand 24 straight free throws by the Raiders, falling 76-66.
Holcomb finished the season 20-4.
“Looking back, I think the stage, the atmosphere might have gotten to us,” Novack said. “We showed for a while that we were a young team. But I thought we played extremely well in the second half and made a game of it.”