ABILENE, Kan.—The seeds were playing precisely to form in the Class 4A Abilene sub-state tournament until the Cowboys took the floor.
Inside Abilene’s gym Thursday night, where the boys’ semifinal games were being competed, there was a large sign on the Abilene side that declared: "This is not our first rodeo."
OK, it wasn’t a rodeo, but Abilene’s sports teams are known as the Cowboys and Abilene’s Cowboys had been in worse predicaments over the years than being a No. 3 seed facing a No. 2 seed in a sub-state basketball tournament.
McPherson has also been involved in several basketball rodeos itself.
Thursday night Abilene’s Cowboys won the sub-state rodeo between the Cowboys and the Bullpups, scoring the only upset of the Abilene tournament thus far with a 59-55 victory over the higher-seeded Bullpups, ending McPherson’s season with an 18-3 record. The Cowboys will take their 18-4 record into the sub-state championship game Saturday night against No. 1 seed Hesston, which defeated Concordia 61-51 in the other Abilene sub-state semifinal Thursday night.
"We were in the sub-state last year at Holton and had our backs to the wall and had to play Holton on the final night and the kids responded well that night," said Abilene coach Terry Taylor. "That is what we needed tonight. We needed to come out and play like this was the sub-state championship game. We did, we played that way and McPherson played the same way. Now we need to forget that tomorrow but we are enjoying this tonight."
Not only did the Cowboys have their backs against the wall in the fact they were a lower seed than McPherson but they also allowed themselves to put up against the wall after allowing the Bullpups to hold them to just 3 points in the opening quarter and build a 15-3 lead after the first eight minutes of game play.
The Bullpups scored the first basket of the second quarter, building a 17-3 lead before Abilene started to put together its charge.
The Cowboys closed out the first half by outscoring McPherson 18-5 and trimming the Bullpup lead to just 22-21 at intermission.
"After a miserable first quarter and being down 17-3 in the second we played pretty well the rest of the night," Taylor said. "We finally got over the butterflies, we were going too fast and we couldn’t make any shots and we didn’t run any offense, we played one on one, all the things we didn’t want to do we did at the beginning. We weathered the storm, McPherson shot it well in the beginning and got the big lead but then they probably relaxed a little bit but we had a great second quarter. … That was the key part of the game."
The Abilene charge was started when Andy Wilson, who scored a game-high 29 points, hit back-to-back 3s and Jacob Harms punctuated the rally by scoring Abilene’s final 5 points of the first half. The final 2 from Harms tied the contest 21-21 before McPherson scored the final point of the first half with a free throw.
Wilson came to the forefront again for Abilene at the end of the third quarter when he scored 8 straight points to close the third quarter, the 8-0 run once again knotted the score 36-36.
The Cowboys started the fourth quarter with a 5-2 run but the Bullpups did not go away without at least growling as they forced the game’s fifth tie score at 41-41 with 5:35 to play.
The Cowboys answered that growl with an 11-3 run, the final 4 points coming from Wilson, and Abilene built its lead as high as 52-44 in the game’s final two minutes and then sealed the victory with free throws.
"We came into the locker room (at intermission) and the kids had a lot of confidence that we could play with them," Taylor said. "We fought them off at the end, we had pretty good clock management in the fourth quarter and made some big plays. We made some free throws as well."
Harms added 16 for Abilene while McPherson was led by Kyler Kinnaman’s 14 points while Keaton Sorenson added 13 for the Bullpups.
Both semifinals Thursday night were tight battles as Concordia and Hesston opened the evening by battling through three ties in the second quarter.
The Swathers, however, came back to build a 14-9 lead after one quarter, were up 28-25 at intermission, led 44-35 going into the final period and secured the victory by outscoring the Panthers 17-16 in the final quarter to earn their birth in the sub-state championship game against Abilene.
"We played hard, we don’t always play smart as you could tell by the end of the game," Hesston coach Greg Raleigh said. "Sooner or later we will get it. It was a good win, I think that was a good team. First half I thought we gave them a lot of stuff inside that we shouldn’t have but we did a much better job in the first half."
Ryan Schadler led Hesston with 22 points while Tyler McGartney and Wyatt McKinney added 10 points each for the Swathers.
Concordia was led by Cooper Holmes, who finished with a game-high 27 points while Grant Holmes pitched in 17 for the Panthers, who end their season with a 15-7 record.