Undefeated Hoxie boys survive stern test from Hill City
WaKEENEY, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Hoxie coach Jake Moss went over to Hill City legendary coach Keith Riley after Thursday’s Class 2A sub-state semifinal game. Moss complimented Riley, who has more than 720 victories in 50-plus years as the Ringnecks’ head coach.
Hoxie faced Hill City three times this season. The Indians won by 15 on Dec. 18 and earned a narrow two-point victory in the Mid-Continent League tournament quarterfinals a month later.
This time, Hill City again pushed the Indians in an eventual 53-47 Hoxie win at WaKeeney-Trego Community High School. HC has 6-foot-3 sophomore Trent Long as its tallest player, and freshman Dylan Gansel in the starting lineup. The Ringnecks had collected 10 straight victories, a surprise for Riley.
“That’s just a team you always say, ‘Man, I don’t want to see them at the end of year,’” Moss said.
Hill City, the No. 4 sub-state seed, finished 15-6. The Indians never trailed after 3-2 but led 26-20 at halftime and 37-31 entering the fourth quarter. Hoxie features five seniors and three players at least 6-foot-3.
“That’s what he does every single year, and that’s what makes you nervous coming into this game is he does such a nice job with his kids, and it definitely showed tonight,” Moss said.
Hoxie standout 7-foot senior center Harlan Obioha entered the final quarter with four fouls. Obioha, with Division I offers in football and basketball, entered the fourth quarter with around five minutes left. He quickly blocked a shot and made Hoxie’s last three field goals, including a pair of dunks. Obioha finished with a game-high 19 points.
“We tried to buy some time,” Moss said. “I thought our offense was kind of stalling out. Nobody really scored. We maintained our six-point lead, but we got down to five minutes, and we said, ‘You have got to be smart, we need you in there.’ They were starting to do a lot of things with man as far as pressuring the ball … We also got a few dunks out of it just because they had to go man.”
Hoxie, ranked No. 1 in Class 2A all season, improved to 22-0. The Indians are trying to accomplish history on several fronts. Hoxie looks to win its first-ever boys’ basketball title and become the first MCL boys’ squad to post an undefeated season for a conference that dates back to 1946-47. Plus, Hoxie is trying to pull the rare double of winning both state boys’ wrestling and boys’ basketball.
The Indians will face Ellis (17-5) in Saturday’s sub-state championship game. Start time is 2 p.m. Hoxie had its closest game all season for the Railroaders in a 63-62 league win Feb. 16. The Indians hit a buzzer-beater game-winning trey.
“Everybody knows everybody so well,” Moss said. “It’s going to be a hard-fought game.”
Hill City had three players average in double figures this season with junior Derek Keith (12.1 points per game), Long at 11.2 and Richmeier with 10.4.
The 5-foot-11 Gansel averaged 3.9 points a contest through the season’s first 10 games. That included a 62-39 loss to Norton on Jan. 21.
“The biggest thing is the kids are real coachable kids,” Riley said. “They knew they could play better than they played first of the year.”
Since then, Gansel delivered 8.4 points per game in the next 11 contests. Hill City defeated Norton, 35-33, on Feb. 23, and then beat Wichita County, 66-48, in the sub-state quarterfinals.
“We got patient, and everybody realized what everybody could do,” Riley said. “We had to replace three starters, three good kids, and when you do that, it takes a little time for kids to fit together.”
On Thursday, Hoxie led 12-3. Hill City had trouble making open jumpers, especially in the first half. In the third quarter, Gansel sank three treys to cut Hoxie’s deficit to 34-31 with 1:09 left. Overall, Hill City made seven 3s. Gansel tallied 15 points, junior Derek Keith 11 and Long with 10.
“We just didn’t shoot the ball well,” Riley said. “We have been shooting the ball well – I mean, we have been blowing everybody away just about.”
Hoxie has navigated Obioha’s foul trouble several times. Last year, Hoxie qualified for the Class 2A state tournament and beat Plainville in the sub-state title game. Obioha had two fouls against the Cardinals, and Hoxie went on a big run for a 13-point lead into halftime.
“Our guys have done this time and time again,” Moss said. “And so it’s almost just like ‘OK, he goes out, who is going to step up now, and all of our guys seem to do that, and nobody ever really panics.”
Hoxie has received excellent guard play this winter, especially from seniors Gavin Tremblay and Caden White, junior Ashton Dowell and sophomore Brady Jones. Miles Baalman, a 6-foot-4 sophomore post, has spelled Obioha. Tremblay tallied 16, and Dowell had nine points with a near double-double.
Dowell opened the fourth quarter with a short jumper for a 39-33 advantage, Hoxie’s lone basket until Obioha came back. Hill City made back-to-back treys inside the final minute. Dowell effectively sealed the game with 17.1 seconds left. Dowell wore a smile on the foul line and calmly knocked the free throws to stretch the lead to three possessions.
“Our guys love playing with each other,” Moss said. “I mean, off the court, they are really good friends. Our team chemistry is really good, and I think that shows on the floor, and why we are so unselfish with the ball, and we have had several different guys step up on different nights, and they don’t care who is doing the scoring. They care about winning, and that’s what I love about this team.”
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