Top ranked Little River upset in state semifinals
DODGE CITY, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Little River head coach Wayne Morrow and assistant coach Roger Trimmell stood outside a quiet Redskin locker room at United Wireless Arena. They placed the box score and the Class 1A, Division I third-place plaque on white storage bins used for storing curtains.
Morrow has served 29 seasons as a head coach. Trimmell led McPherson College for 27 years. The duo dissected a surprising 75-66 loss to Olpe in Friday’s state semifinals. The two veterans couldn’t solve the question of top-ranked Little River’s slow start, which eventually led to a disappointing finish for a highly experienced squad.
“I just don’t think they had their motors running like they usually run,” Morrow said. “And that’s odd for these guys.”
Olpe scored the game’s first six points and led 15-3 with 2 minutes, 17 seconds in the first quarter. At that point, LR senior guard Graham Stephens had subbed out with two fouls.
“Why the motor wasn’t quite running, we could’ve questioned why on that forever,” Morrow said. “There’s just no excuses, and these guys won’t make any excuses. They just don’t know why it didn’t go a little better out of the gate.
“Because that’s the first thing we say almost every time we play – ‘Get out of the gate, first four minutes, and we will get you a timeout, but you’ve got to bust your tails,” he added. “Man, they just weren’t moving. Legs weren’t moving.”
Olpe eventually pushed the lead to 20. Little River cut the deficit to 65-57 with less than two minutes remaining, though missed a 3-pointer.
“We talked about being the underdog,” Olpe coach Chris Schmidt said. “That the pressure was more on them.”
Olpe, which finished 30 of 48 from the field for 63 percent and sank 11 of 16 free throws, closed out the win from the foul line. The Eagles were plus-15 on the glass.
“We knew they were going to be disciplined,” senior Jayden Garrison said. “We knew they were going to come out and execute something, and they did it very well. And they shot the ball very effectively and took our press, broke it down to pieces and got some easy baskets.”
Two years ago, Morrow came out of retirement to lead Little River. He has served as head coach at seven schools and won well over 300 games.
Last winter, Little River finished 23-3 and was one of the Class 1A Forever Four teams when the tournament was cancelled in the semifinals from the coronavirus. LR and St. John were the consensus top-two teams in 1A. Garrison was the 1A Player of the Year, and Morrow was co-1A Coach of the Year.
“We wish we would have started a little bit differently with a straight zone or straight man-to-man or something and filled it out, but hey, you can’t go back and replay it now,” Morrow said. “So, we went with what got us here for two years, and I thought they battled the second half trying to come back.”
Garrison and Stephens led LR to an Eight-Man, Division I football crown last fall. This winter, LR returned its entire team, including all five starters and ranked No. 1 in the classification since early December.
“Just a lot of questions that we have to live with for awhile,” Morrow said. “And hey it’s a basketball game, but it’s going to hurt a long time.”
Garrison cleared 2,000 career points. The Redskins went 22-2. Morrow fell short of his first-ever state title.
“I just wanted to go back to do something I loved to do,” Morrow said. “And it just didn’t work out. I haven’t ever won one of those things, and they are tough to get. They are tough to get. So the people that get them, I congratulate them, because it’s awful tough to get them.”
Schmidt is the Eagles’ veteran football and boys’ basketball coach at his alma mater. In the fall, Olpe won the 1A football state title. Olpe (17-3) will face Montezuma-South Gray (24-0) for the state championship at 6 p.m. Saturday. The Eagles have never won a state boys’ basketball crown. The lone finals appearance came in a 58-56 double-overtime loss to Pittsburg Colgan in 2002.
“Fundamentally sound, well-coached, strong, rebound, offensive rebound,” Morrow said of Olpe. “But we knew all of that. The hard part says, why we had gas the second half, and they don’t have gas at the beginning.”
Olpe consistently had wide-open layups and sank mid-range jumpers. In modern basketball, teams often eschew the mid-range jumper for layups and 3-pointers. Olpe often practices the mid-range game – and wanted LR to have those looks.
“We talked defensively about forcing them to take the mid-range shot, because they like the outside, and they obviously get the (inside) shots,” Schmidt said.
In the 15-3 run, Olpe hit a foul line jumper to open the contest.
“We do a lot of drills where we hit 15-foot shots,” Schmidt said. “We got some kids, that’s kind of their range.”
The Eagles made two more jumpers, and then banked in a shot from junior Derek Hoelting off a pass from senior Jordan Barnard. Overall, Barnard shot 10 of 16 and led Olpe with 24 points.
“They like to be aggressive up high,” Schmidt said. “They send guys up high, and they really trap, but if you can get through that trap, usually a lot of times you are going to have a 3-on-2 situation, and I thought we did a great job of getting the ball in the middle, and then hitting it from block to block, and then kids finishing.”
Hoelting contained Garrison early in the contest and finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Garrison shot 8 of 23 for 28 points.
“We came out flat, which we can’t do at a state tournament,” Garrison said. “And it kind of did us in.”
Olpe led 18-8 after the first quarter, 35-20 at halftime and 52-42 entering the fourth quarter.
“They shot the ball better than we saw on any tape,” Morrow said. “(Barnard) played an outstanding game.”
The Eagles play in the challenging Lyon County League that includes Madison and Lebo. The trio all finished with at least 16 wins. Little River is in the softer Wheat State League, though earned three big victories against Elyria Christian, which will play Hanover for a Class 1A, Division II title Saturday.
“They play in probably a little tougher competition,” Morrow said. “… We just weren’t ready for the physicality.”
Little River trailed, 61-50, when Stephens came back in with four fouls with just over four minutes left. He picked up a foul near midcourt at the 2:20 mark at the Redskins down nine. LR never got closer than eight.
Afterward, Garrison and Stephens congratulated several Olpe players just outside the locker room. Nearby, Morrow and Trimmell quietly contemplated the loss.
“The season was great,” Garrison said. “Kids were great. Coaches were great. The community is great. To see the support out there today is awesome. Just everybody is kind of bummed that we couldn’t win the state championship, but you know, that’s how life is. It’s going to tear you down. And you are going to have to build yourself back up.”
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