RUSSELL, Kan. - Central Plains captured the Eight-Man, Division I state football championship two days after Thanksgiving. The Oilers had little turnaround time before its first basketball game a week later.
CP returned four starters, all seniors: Alex Hickel, Myles Menges, Brett Liebl and Devin Ryan. The players were gridiron standouts and also helped the Oilers to a 26-0 mark and Class 2A basketball crown last winter.
Coach Brett Rolfs said the little practice forced the Oilers to “kind of just gloss” over some fundamentals.
Still, Central Plains has again become a dominant force, including a 64-31 victory Friday versus Plainville in the Amos Morris tournament semifinals at Russell High School. Central Plains, ranked No. 1 in 1A, bumped to 3-0 and have its other two wins by 30-point margins.
“For the most part, I thought it went really smooth, but a lot of work to do still,” Rolfs said. “Now, we get into Christmas break, we will step back though, and we will really work on a lot of the finer details that we didn’t get to here the start of the season.”
Central Plains will face Phillipsburg, 3-0 and ranked eighth in 3A, in Saturday’s championship game. Last year, CP defeated the Panthers, 59-27, in the tournament. That marked the Panthers’ lone loss until the 3A title.
“They have got some great basketball IQ kids that can do everything,” Phillipsburg coach Keith Sides said. “Post you up hard, they can shoot the ball. All handle the ball. They are going to be tough.”
Plainville has often played Central Plains. The Oilers have won nine straight in the series and the teams have played each other at least once a year since the 2012-13 season.
In the first round Tuesday, Plainville coach Chris Drees noticed CP didn’t shoot the ball at a high rate. As well, the Cardinals have historically played better versus the Oilers in a zone.
“I know you just don’t play them man,” Drees said. “Because they will just run you to death, but I have had some success in zone against them.”
However, the Oilers hit their first six shots, scored 13 unanswered points and led 15-2 with 4 minutes and 9 seconds left in the first quarter. Menges, the team’s tallest player at 6-foot-4, sunk back-to-back treys in 39 seconds for an 8-2 advantage.
“Myles put a lot of work in this summer, so his shot is really coming a long way,” senior point guard Devin Ryan said.
Ryan assisted on three straight baskets, and then Menges delivered another 3 on the left sideline for the 13-point advantage. Drees, a former veteran assistant at Thomas More Prep-Marian before he took over as head coach at Palco and now Plainville, has watched Menges since he was little.
Menges first played in Hays and then Ellinwood before he transferred to Central Plains before last season and made a sizable improvement last winter.
Drees called Menges “pretty raw” when he arrived at CP. Menges delivered a game-high 20 points and 11 rebounds. Central Plains made 10 3s.
“He has kind of just fallen into the Central Plains lineage, I guess,” Drees said. “They all have great shots. They don’t really make mistakes.”
Central Plains continued the excellent shooting and led 22-11 after the first quarter. The Oilers ended the quarter 9 of 10 from the field and 4 of 4 from the 3-point line.
“We knocked down open shots,” Rolfs said. “Our shot selection was good, sharing the ball well and shots were falling early, and obviously that just spread even more confidence into the rest of them.”
Ryan sunk a trey near the end of the first quarter. In the second, he had four baskets, including three 3s.
“Consistency, that’s the first thing I always think of with him is consistency and a great floor general,” Rolf said. “He knows what I want, and he knows what I expect, and he relays that to the rest of the team, and he is just so dang consistent, and so savvy of a ball player. He really is a big cornerstone for us, no doubt, on both sides of the court.”
Several of his attempts came from the top of the key. Ryan finished 5 of 6 from beyond the arc for 17 points.
“There were in a 2-3 zone, and I run point, and just bombed away up there,” Ryan said.
“We always want to get the ball inside first, inside out, and then once we get things established inside, the outside game will come.”
By the 5:32 mark of the first half, Central Plains led 34-11. The Oilers had sunk 14 of 16 from the field and 6 of 6 from beyond the arc.
“We haven’t seen a whole lot of zone thus far this year, which is surprising,” Rolfs said.
Plainville (2-1) returned just two starters, standout junior Jared Casey and senior Tanner Copeland, and had three inexperienced new starters. CP had a distinct size advantage inside and held a 19-7 rebounding edge in the first half.
Casey, who led the Cardinals to the 2A state tournament last year and averaged 29 points a game in the first two contests, finished with a team-best 19 points and seven rebounds.
“I was hoping we’d get them early in the season and maybe not be as sharp as they’d be later on, and you return four of five starters from a state champion undefeated team a year ago,” Drees said. “I knew they are going to be tough. I’ve got two pretty good players, and a lot of young kids around them.
“I knew it was kind of a prayer, you are hoping for and maybe try to get them on an off night, but they were hitting the 3 ball tonight, so we were kind of stuck,” he added.
Phillipsburg defeats Smith Center
Austin Miller scored 15 total points as a freshman for Phillipsburg. Last winter, he was again a varsity reserve on an experienced Panther squad that reached the state tournament for the first time in 45 years.
He played in 21 contests and had one double-figure performance, 10 points in a Jan. 19 victory versus Oakley. This season, the 6-foot-5 Miller is easily the Panthers’ tallest player and has shown great improvement.
On Friday, he helped Phillipsburg defeat Smith Center, 66-56, in the Amos Morris semifinals. Miller had a career-high 14 points in the season opener against Ellis but then tallied five on 0 of 6 shooting earlier in the week against Russell.
“Austin is going to have to be big for us this year with lack of size inside,” coach Keith Sides said. “He’s a good athlete. He needs to use his body a little better, and improve every night he gets on the court.”
Miller bounced back with 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting and five rebounds.
“He’s got to do it,” Sides said. “He has should be a double-double guy every night, rebounds and points.”
Phillipsburg controlled the game throughout, led 22-13 at the end of the first quarter, 38-21 at halftime and by 24 late in the third quarter.
“I am a junior now,” Miller said. “So I have got to kind of step up my game and show everybody that I can do it and get the younger guys ready for when I am gone, and it’s them stepping up.”
Coach Sides’ boys, senior Trey and sophomore Ty, again delivered big contests. Trey, a four-year starter and returning 3A Player of the Year, finished with 22 points on 8 of 9 shooting and 6 of 6 on treys. Ty Sides had 19 points on 7 of 12.
Smith Center closed the game to 9-7 late in the first quarter when Trey Sides got loose on back-to-back treys. Ty added another basket, before Trey sunk a 3 just before the first quarter buzzer.
Both Sides’ brothers average at least 16.3 points a game and have significantly upped its scoring from last season. Senior Kyle Sasse paced Smith Center (0-3) with 20 points.
“We are trying to get back on defense, and they are pushing the ball up the floor, so it’s kind of a double-edged sword,” SC coach Rob Buckmaster said. “If you get up on (Trey), yeah that’s fine, but we’ve got to have somebody deep to stop the long pass, so that was trouble. We just weren’t getting back fast enough with our big guys to switch back to him offensively.”
Also inside, Phillipsburg has new starters with junior Parker Dibble and senior Jon Hunnacutt. They combined for 10 points and four rebounds. SC, with no player shorter than 5-10 on the roster and significant size, was just plus-1 in rebounding margin.
“We are not as deep, not as blessed with as many scorers as we did last year, so they’ve got the green light whenever,” coach Sides said. “And then with our inside game, Miller, then Parker Dibble and Jon Hunnacutt, they are going to have to do a lot of the dirty work, a lot of the garbage man for us to be a successful team.”