South Gray falls in finals

By Brett Marshall
KSHSAA Tournament Correspondent

The Olpe Eagles boys basketball team etched itself a place in history here Saturday night when it produced a rare football-basketball double-double, claiming the Class 1A-Division I championship with a 54-47 come-from-behind victory over the previously unbeaten South Gray Rebels.

The victory enabled the Eagles to duplicate their girls’ team state title from earlier in the day and followed by a few months their Class 1A 11-man football championship when they beat Oakley, 12-0, on Thanksgiving 2020 weekend.

It was the first boys’ state championship in school history, and was only the second time the boys had played for a state championship, dating back to 2002 when they lost to Pittsburg-St. Mary’s Colgan 58- 56 in double overtime.

Olpe had somewhat been playing in the shadows all season of the No. 1 ranked Little River Redskins and the Rebels, but on back-to-back nights, knocked off the top two teams in Class 1A-I. First it was Little River 75-66 in the Friday semis and then the big, big win over South Gray which was looking to complete its second undefeated season in four years.

South Gray had gotten red-hot in the second quarter to go up 27-20 at halftime following a 21-point explosion, but then seemingly the Rebels’ offense went icy cold in the third again, scoring only 6 points but still clung to a 33-31 advantage.

Four more Olpe points completed a 10-0 run that erased a 33-25 South Gray lead late in the third and then the teams shared the lead at 37 and 39 before a mini 5 point run made it 44-39 with 3:52 to play. The Rebels would never get the lead back as the Eagles made several big defensive stops in the closing two minutes.

Yet, with 27 seconds remaining, Brady Deges’ deep 3-pointer pulled the Rebels into a one-possession game at 50-47. Olpe dropped in 4-of-6 free throws down the stretch and South Gray missed a couple of 3-pointers as the clock went to 0:00.

It would have been South Gray’s fifth state championship but the Eagles were not to be denied. Rebels'coach Mark Applegate finished his 39th season with 725 career wins. Jordan Barnard led the scoring for the winners with 17 points, Truman Bailey came off the bench in support with 11 points while Derek Hoelting and Damon Redeker each netted 10. Brent Penner finished with 14 points to lead the Rebels while Brady Deges and Aaron Skidmore each contributed 11.

The start of the game resembled something like a car stuck in the mud.

Olpe scored the first six points in the first four minutes while South Gray couldn’t get untracked. It wasn’t until the 2:04 mark that the Rebels got on the scoreboard and by the end of the period it was just a 7-6 Eagles lead.

Things heated up in the second quarter, though, as South Gray drilled five 3-pointers en route to a 21-point period while Olpe managed 13 that produced a 27-20 halftime edge for the Rebels. Junior Brent Penner off the bench produced 12 first-half points while Jordan Barnard, the hero of Friday night’s semifinal win over Little River, led the Eagles with 11. 

Boys Semifinals Game: South Gray 69 Ness City 58

It could have been billed as the Best in the West as the two most western schools geographically played in the Class 1A-Division I semifinals here Friday afternoon at United Wireless Arena.

The teams – the Ness City Eagles and the South Gray Rebels – had recent success history on their side as the Eagles had won the 2019 Class 2A state crown while the Rebels had captured the 2018 Class 1A-I title.

South Gray eventually prevailed 69-58 in a wild-and-wooly fourth quarter, but the Eagles didn’t go down quietly.

What seemed like a runaway with 7:10 left in the game when the Rebels built a 56-35 lead, turned into a nail-biter until the final minute. Ness City scorched the nets with six, count ‘em six, 3-point bombs to pull themselves back into the stretch run, closing to within 64-58 when 0:57 seconds showed on the clock.

It was a stunning explosion as the Eagles had managed just two through the first three periods. Dawson Stoecklein knocked down three of those en route to a team-high 15 points while sharing team-high honors with Jose Guzman and Matthew Delaney contributed 12.

For the Rebels, Aaron Skidmore paced the victory with 20 points while Brady Deges and Brent Penner each contributed 18 points. Penner might have been the biggest spark for coach Mark Applegate, who got his 725th victory in his 39th season. The 6-2 junior off the bench hit 8-of-11 field goals and he also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds for a brilliant double-double.

The first half started off slowly for both teams, something that seems to happen to teams when they get into the bigger arenas at state tournament time.

Ness City led early 6-3 and 10-6 before the Rebels got things unwound, using the long-range missle 3-point program with four deep ones that eventually brought them to an 18-16 lead after one quarter.

The second quarter, though, was all South Gray as the Rebels’ tenacious defense created turnovers (11) that became transition baskets which created 13-3 run and a 31-19 lead. The Runnin’ Rebs would finish out the half up 34-21.

Junior Brent Penner came off the bench to give the Rebels 7 important points in the second. Deges and Skidmore paced the Rebels with 11 and 10 points in that stretch. 

Each of the losing two teams in the semis will share third-place trophies as KSHSAA made a decision to not have any consolation games this year due to COVID-19.