Ashland boys earn key road win against Pawnee Heights
Ashland coach Garth Gardiner had not yet utilized the box-and-one defense this winter.
However, he had coached against Pawnee Heights senior standout Kade Scott for the last six years, including junior high. Scott entered Friday averaging 27.8 points a contest for the undefeated Tigers.
Gardiner went with the box-and-one and slowed Scott, especially early. In the first contest back from holiday break, Ashland earned a key 58-52 road victory in Southern Plains Iroquois action.
Scott finished with a game-high 23. Ashland held him without a field goal until 51 seconds left in the first quarter and 10 first half points.
“We threw that junk defense at them,” Gardiner said. “Kade Scott is a great player, and we knew he was going to get some points, but I think that kind of affected their flow a little bit, and our guys accepted that challenge of playing that way.
“It’s not necessarily a pretty way to play, but sometimes prettier on the scoreboard when you get a win regardless of how you get it, and I thought for the most part, we defended pretty well,” he added.
Ashland used several players on Scott, including 6-foot-4 senior Chris White and 5-10 senior point guard Cody Lohrding. Late in the first quarter, PH coach Gustavo Flores told Scott to shoot after the Bluejays’ defense had flummoxed Pawnee Heights early. Flores and Scott expected to see the defense.
“He was trying to do too much, and I kept telling him, he needs to just relax, wait for screens, set himself up,” Flores said. “He’s being too passive. When he was driving, he would penetrate and pull up and get his defender off of him. He would turn around and throw the ball back out instead of taking a shot that he makes every single day in practice, so we will live and learn from this.”
Pawnee Heights (7-1) has six seniors and Flores calls the squad “by far the best” team in his five seasons. PH has not reached state since 2001. Tradition-rich Ashland has captured nine straight in the series dating back to ’08.
“Ashland is a very good ball club, and we always kind of have a mental block against them,” Flores said. “So, we have got to get over that at some point.”
The Tigers opened 2 of 11 shooting, and White blocked a pair of shots. Ashland (6-2) led Pawnee Heights, 12-10, after the first quarter and 24-23 at halftime.
Many of the players faced each other in key six-man games this fall. PH won the title in ’17, but lost to Ashland twice in 2018, a fact Gardiner had reminded his team of.
“We have to be the aggressors as we come out,” Gardiner said. “I thought we started the game very aggressive. … That defense just kind of really affected the whole flow of their offense.”
As well, Gardiner’s mother graduated from Pawnee Heights. He always goes to the board and looks at her picture.
“Got good friends here, and these are good people up here,” Gardiner said. “It’s fun to come up here, because it’s kind of a little bitty gym, and it’s exciting.”
Gardiner said the box-and-one “messes up the game” and that “it’s hard to scheme for” because most teams don’t practice against it. Several opponents have used the look against Ashland junior standout Greysen Gardiner.
“I know what he is capable of,” coach Gardiner said. “I know that he is a special player, but I think I’ve got special players, too, and I kind of made a challenge to a couple of them that we are going to guard him specifically.
“And I said, ‘Your sole responsibility is going to be to keep him from getting the ball, and if he gets the ball, then you’ve just got to guard him as best as you can, and you will have help,’” he added.
Ashland opened the second half on an 8-0 run and led 32-23 with 5 minutes, 7 seconds left in the third quarter for the game’s biggest lead.
Scott cut the deficit to 38-36 by the end of the quarter with eight points.
Then, PH tied the game at 38 early in fourth on a pass from freshman Adam Hands to junior Harrison VanMeter (18 points).
The Tigers never led, but tied the game at 44 and 49. The latter came with 2:31 left when senior Dalton Hamby sunk a trey off a Scott pass. At that point, PH, which hasn’t played in many close games in recent years, had just one turnover in the quarter.
However, Ashland quickly went on a 6-0 run and took advantage of a pair of PH miscues. Pawnee Heights dealt with significant early season injuries and senior Trace Baker (hand) and sophomore Fabian Flores (broken leg) are still limited or unavailable.
“I would take the fault on that,” coach Flores said. “I should have had different guys in there and different situations. I know which guys get sped up, I know which ones don’t.”
Greysen Gardiner, an accomplished player, had missed four games this year because of an ankle injury suffered in the Fowler tournament. He was cleared right before Christmas to start some physical therapy.
He returned and collected 10 points, part of a balanced effort. He scored on a drive for a 51-49 lead. A poor Tiger backcourt pass led to a steal from steal from sophomore Kash McPhail and another Gardiner basket.
“He’s probably about 65, 70 percent,” coach Gardiner, his father, said. “I am excited. He’s just a junior, and to get to coach him, that’s one of the greatest thrills that I have had as a coach, and it’s also one of the toughest, too.”
Then, junior Brennan Grady stole the ball off a pass and drove in for a basket and 55-49 advantage with 55.7 seconds left. Grady finished with a team-high 12, and senior Konnor Maule had 10. Lohrding, known for his quickness, had 10 points and three assists along with a first half technical foul.
“They are a big, physical, strong team, too, and when you have been on Christmas break, and you have been eating turkey legs, it’s kind of hard to compete with big, burly guys like that,” coach Gardiner said. “But I was proud of our effort, and I thought we had some guys step up offensively and really helped us a lot, too, that aren’t normally our scorers.”
Pawnee Heights third-year coach Kate Reece set a goal to have a .500-plus season this year. The SPIAA conference is one of the top small school leagues in Kansas, especially on the girls’ side. PH has multiple marquee upcoming contests, but picked up a key early season league victory with a 41-15 home victory against Ashland.
Pawnee Heights moved to 5-2, and Ashland remained winless this winter. PH led comfortably throughout, including 9-2 after the first quarter and 21-7 at halftime. Sophomore Jaden Carlson had 13 points, while sophomore Madison Polson delivered seven.
Senior point guard Ashlee Miller finished with six points, three assists, three steals and took a charge. Senior post Katie Amspacker tallied eight rebounds, three blocks and a pair of steals.
“We are still working on a lot of things,” Reece said. “Our ball movement is just slow, but tonight, we worked really hard on trying to move that around a lot more than we normally do, so that’s big for us.”