WAKEENEY, Kan. - Ness City boys' basketball won the Class 2A state title last winter. The Eagles graduated its top-five scorers, including three players who averaged double figures: John Pfannenstiel, Andres Rios and Landon Reinhardt. Pfannenstiel earned classification player of the year.
Coach Brandt Rogers has labeled the 2018-19 group “the young guns.” Ness City has three seniors: Hector Rodriguez, Easton Seib and Dylan Fehrenbach. As well, junior Edwin Rodriguez, a key reserve last year, hurt his knee is currently out.
However, Ness City, led by the seniors and sophomores Jose Guzman, Jackson Seib and Taylor Cable, have again started 3-0. On Friday, the Eagles delivered a 47-39 victory versus La Crosse in the Purple and Gold tournament semifinals at WaKeeney-Trego High School.
“Somehow, they just find a way,” Rogers said. “They are gutty guys, and when rough times come, they gut through it, so we are really fortunate.”
Ness City will face Jetmore-Hodgeman County in the championship game Saturday. Start time is 7:30 p.m. The Eagles defeated Almena-Northern Valley for the title last winter. La Crosse (2-1) will face Stockton for third place at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
The 6-foot-3 Cable has quickly emerged as one of the state's breakout players.
“He's just a great post inside,” La Crosse coach Kyle Schmidt said. “He's got really good footwork, good moves, and keeps the ball nice and high to where our defense can't get in there.”
He did not appear in a varsity contest last winter. Rogers noticed Cable's talent in junior high.
“He's trying to shoot with four or five guys down there slapping at the ball,” Rogers said. “He's just always had that competitive edge.”
Rogers saw Cable's body frame as a freshman. The sophomores saw extensive summer time.
“I know we are going to make mistakes, and that's an area that I have worked on as a coach is just I try to do a lot more building and teaching this year,” Rogers said. “Rather than telling them what they are doing wrong. Because they know they are doing things wrong, but they need to know that I am on their side.”
Cable delivered 14 points on 7 of 11 shooting and nine rebounds in a season-opening 51-46 victory versus Macksville.
“I knew we were going to have something special there,” Rogers said. “And if he continues to grow, then he's going to end up being a real special player. The way that he controls things on the press, and sets it up, and then just his presence down low. And to top it off, he's a great kid. He's in the gym all the time, it's awesome.”
In practice, Rogers has continually preached for Cable to use his left hand down low.
In the first round of the Purple and Gold, Cable delivered 21 points on 9 of 10 shooting in a 63-51 win versus Victoria. Against La Crosse, Cable tallied a game-high 22 points.
“He's getting really tired of hearing it, so he's doing it really well now, which is great,” Rogers said of the left hand.”
La Crosse jumped out to an early 7-2 lead, though lost senior Blake Herrman to a collarbone injury just a few minutes into the game. Herrman hurt the collarbone twice in football. Schmidt was unsure of the status postgame. Herrman rarely comes out of the contest.
“It definitely hurts,” Schmidt said. “Blake's our big energy guy. Gets the defense going, and is a really great defender, and offensively, he's usually handles the ball for us.”
Herrman's family and Rogers' wife's family are friends. Rogers talked to Herrman postgame.
“Just upset to see him not be able to play, because I want to play against him,” Rogers said. “I love talking to the kid.”
Ness City took a 10-9 lead after the first quarter, 23-20 at halftime and 30-27 entering the fourth quarter. However, La Crosse took a 33-32 advantage on a jumper from senior Hunter Morgan with 4 minutes, 33 seconds remaining. He paced the Leopards with 15 points.
Eight seconds later, La Crosse was whistled for the first of two technical fouls, the first on senior Keldon Day. He fouled out of the contest. Cable then tallied a basket for a 34-33 advantage.
“He got called for boxing the guy out too far underneath the goal, which is something I really haven't heard of,” Schmidt said. “I didn't know it was a rule, and then he just kind of lost his head, and unfortunate for him. We needed him on the floor.”
Another technical, this time on Schmidt, led to a pair of Cable free throws for a 38-33 advantage. Schmidt had earned a warning earlier in the contest, and then argued a no-call.
“I probably should be better than that,” Schmidt said. “That was on me, and we will get those fixed.”
Ness City continued to work the ball inside, and Cable tallied four more points down the stretch to seal the victory. Cable effectively maneuvered around and over defenders for scores.
“It's a different feeling for sure to not have a player like John, or Andres or Landon around, but eventually one of these guys, they are going to be those players,” Rogers said.