HUTCHINSON, Kan.—On paper the Sub-State final between the Northwest and Dodge City boys should have been a walk for the Grizzlies on Saturday.
Northwest had a 16-5 record entering the game compared to Dodge City’s 12-9 record. Dodge City proved the records did not matter with a 38-32 win.
Early on it looked as if the Grizzlies were going to impose their will and play a fast-paced game after jumping out to a 12-5 lead.
But disaster struck for Northwest as star point guard Craig Nicholson picked up two early fouls.
"It hurt us. It really hurt us. We were up 12-5 and then Craig (Nicholson) gets two quick ones," Northwest head coach Chris Collins said. "(Then) the momentum shifts completely their way. I feel if that doesn't happen we can start to really push the ball like we like to and stretch the lead."
With Nicholson out, Dodge City began to force the Grizzlies to play its style.
"(Northwest is) a team coming in that could easily beat us in the 60's and 70's, we needed to make it a grindy type of game,” Dodge City senior Trey Hallman said.
That defensive mind-set held Northwest to just four second quarter points, while Dodge City scored nine points to tie the game while Nicholson was stuck on the bench for all eight minutes of the second frame.
The third quarter saw Dodge City and Northwest start to get overly physical with each other. Dodge City picked up back-to-back fouls and looked to be losing its cool, but the Red Demons were able to gain their composure thanks to its senior leader.
"I think you can give our coach on the court credit for a lot of that, Trey Hallman. We can talk to them, but when he talks to them as a peer and team leader I think it helps as much as anything," Dodge City head coach Dennis Hamilton said.
After three quarters, Dodge City held a 32-26 lead. It was then that Northwest went into a panic mode as nothing would fall.
"I think we got sped up and were trying to get it all back at once," Collins said. "Even when we got it in (to the post) it was going in and out. I think we had some great cracks at it, (but) it just didn't go our way tonight."
In the second half, Northwest was four-for-30 from the field and missed all 15 three-point shots it took in the game. The Grizzlies shot a dismal 25.6-percent from the field on Saturday.
"It is one of those deals where we just picked a bad night to have an off night," Collins said. "It is really difficult because obviously we expected to go back to state and have an opportunity to win it. That is the reason you cannot take anything for granted."
While Northwest was expected to return to the state tournament for the second year in a row, Dodge City is back for the fourth consecutive time for the first time in school history.
Next week’s trip to Koch Arena in Wichita was anything but expected just two months ago.
"We went limping into Christmas at one and three. Who would have bet a nickel on Dodge to do what we have done?" Hamilton said.
Isaiah Bradshaw led Dodge City with 11 points off the bench for Dodge City. Hallman was second on the team with eight points. Northwest’s Spenser Gales closed out his career with 10 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Grizzlies in both categories.
North takes down Maize despite poor shooting night
The North Redskins are known for their offense, specifically Conner Frankamp’s offense. On Saturday night, that offense sputtered, but North found a way to win with a defensive masterpiece of a performance by a score of 46-26.
"I told the kids tonight to get us to the state tournament we have to play defensively,” Squires said.
That started with causing havoc for Maize’s guard play.
"We put a lot of ball pressure out front on their guards because I noticed their offense started with guard action out front, so we tried to deny that passing lane that starts their offense," Squires said. "We tried to push them outside their comfort zone defensively."
North was able to forced 18 turnovers and got 13 points off of those turnovers.
The Redskins shot just 30.4-percent from the field in the first half, and Frankamp had just six points going into the break, but North still led 18-12 despite the struggles.
"I thought the rims were tight. Conner (Frankamp) had a lot of good looks in and out. We missed a lot of little bunnies there in the lane too," Squires said.
The rims loosened up in the second half for North as it shot over 50-percent from the field in the final 16 minutes, but Frankamp never got on a roll and finished with just 12 points. Well below his 35-point-per game average.
It was the role players that picked up the slack for North.
"Those guys have stepped up and got it done for us. These last three or four games people have come out and doubled Conner or box-and-one, and we have done a better job of finishing plays," Squires said. "They took care of the ball and made shots for us down low."
Sean Bernard and Torrance Henderson each had eight points in the game. Tarius Williams and Jordan Kinder were not far behind with seven and six points, respectively.
Maize was led by Blake Pontius and his nine points to go with eight rebounds. Jeff Sturgeon had eight points and was the only other Eagle with more than four points.