The Ashland Blue jays are not used to being the underdog. Their ten seniors from their state title season have diminished to two. However the Jays defeated a higher-seeded Minneola team to get back to the SPIAA semi-finals and took South Gray to the buzzer. The Rebels were prepared and ready as they took down the Jays 47-46.
The Jays blazed out evenly matching the Rebels. Ashland’s 6’4” junior Grant Meininger was pivotal all game. He started the game with a few points. Ashland’s Corey McCann also had a good night from the arch. He ended the first quarter with a three-bomb tying the score at nine.
A three-point-fest ensued with five in the second quarter alone. McCann had two followed by one by South Gray’s Trenton Holloway. South Gray only had a two-point lead at halftime 22-20.
The Rebels started pounding it in the second half. Sophomore Jake Peters made a key shot under the basket and a free throw to give South Gray a critical four-point lead with only seconds remaining.
Rebel head coach Mark Applegate said the defense made some adjustments in the fourth quarter to regain the edge.
“Well, the first thing we had to do was keep the ball away from Meininger and then we had to rebound,” he said. “We didn’t rebound very well the first three quarters. In the last quarter we did a much better job.”
Meininger came up clutch once again and sank a three as the buzzer sounded but three was not enough. The Jays fell 46-47. Applegate said the rollercoaster could have been prevented.
“Well, it would be a lot nicer if we made some free throws,” he said. “That was the big thing that went through there. You know Ashland is a good team and Meininger is just an awesome player. I mean I don’t think he missed two shots tonight.”
Applegate and his Rebels have a lot of respect for Ashland head coach Kit Walker and his Blue jays. He says it means a lot to defeat the defending state champions but there is a good chance they will meet again with a lot more on the line.
“They lost a lot but I tell you Kit did a really good job of getting those guys playing together and improving throughout the year,” Applegate said. “They are going to be a team to contend with in the tournament.”
Fowler vs. Kiowa County
The SPIAA teams have taken respect to new level. Although Applegate and his Rebels have high regards for the Blue jays, their championship opponent has similar reverence. Not to mention, Fowler head coach Scott Brown is eager for their match up after defeating Kiowa County 54-33.
“You know everybody knows South Gray and how much success they’ve had with Coach Applegate and the program he’s built there,” Brown said. “We have a lot of respect for Coach Applegate and South Gray because we are trying to emulate what they are doing. What they’ve done with their program we are trying to do the same thing. Not easy with as much success as they’ve had. To beat them would be tremendous but we are just going to go out there and try to do what we do and play the way that we like to play. Hopefully if we do that things will go well for us.”
The Fowler Goldbugs did not pose the nail-biting suspense in their semi-final against Kiowa County that South Gray did. However, it did reveal a lot about the No. 1 seed Goldbugs and their dynamic offense.
The Goldbugs Ty Clark was a force to be reckoned with putting up big numbers in the paint. The Mavericks only two points of the first quarter came from free throws.
Kiowa started slashing the gaps in the second quarter and slicing Fowler’s defense apart. Maverick senior Rustin Ardery was their go to post also posting big numbers on the box.
Senior Joel Milford kept the Goldbugs alive with two threes in the second but Kiowa was back in it 23-19 at the half. Brown said halftime was a critical juncture in this game.
“What we told them at halftime was just emphasizing what we’ve been stressing the past couple days of practice,” Brown said. “They [the Mavericks] are so strong on the post and they run their offenses so well. They are very well coached. We emphasized that we need to box out, front the post and keep the ball out of the lane as much as we can…”
It sparked the Goldbugs to put away the Mavericks with a lot of help from Fowlers’ other dynamic post player, senior Jett Reese. The Goldbugs won 54-33 and will meet the Rebels in the championship game on Saturday at 8 p.m.