DODGE CITY, Kan. - Greensburg-Kiowa County third-year coach Matt Hoffman has continually preached the same message since he took over the Maverick boys’ basketball program: get a banner.
On Saturday, improved Kiowa County accomplished school history with a 45-32 victory against Jetmore-Hodgeman County in the Southern Plains Iroquois league tournament finals at United Wireless Arena.
KC worked through an upset-filled bracket and reached its conference tournament title game for the first occasion. After the trophy presentation and pictures, KC’s players and Hoffman went to midcourt and signed the tournament banner.
“Pretty awesome,” senior Cooper Zenger said.
The Mavericks, in its tenth year of existence, have posted six seasons of at least .500 basketball. However, KC has never reached the state tournament, including 10-10 and 13-9 marks in Hoffman’s first two seasons. This year, the Mavericks featured five seniors, more than the other three SPIAA semifinalists had available this week.
Zenger and Brandon Boyles reached after they combined for more than 19 points a contest last year.
Zenger averages 18.2 points a game this winter, and Boyles is at 12.1. Zenger and Boyles were the game’s two leading scorers with 13 and 10 points, respectively. Zenger has scored in double figures in 11 straight contests and 12 of 13 for the 10-3 Mavericks.
“We full court pressure, and we are going to run,” Hoffman said.
All three of Kiowa County’s losses have come against ranked teams, Pratt Skyline (No. 5 in 2A), St. John (No. 8 in 1A) and Coldwater-South Central.
Entering the week, the SPIAA’s top-two seeds were Montezuma-South Gray and South Central, ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association. Last year, SC defeated SG in a thrilling contest for the title.
However, South Central’s top-two players, senior Owen Alexander (illness) and senior Xavier Frazier (concussion) were out. The Timberwolves, with just three other seniors, lost to Hodgeman County in the semifinals.
In the other semifinal, Kiowa County upset South Gray, 69-59, behind 55 percent shooting, along with 25 points and six rebounds from Zenger, who faced a box-and-one.
“It’s a big kudos to our team, because they find him open, and they work to get him open to make those shots for us,” Hoffman said. “That’s a key for us for sure is the way he’s playing.”
Before the win, Kiowa County was 1-10 all-time against South Gray, and hadn’t defeated the Rebels since a 50-43 win on Feb. 17, 2012. SG has just one senior on the roster, a reserve.
“It was very solidifying for our team,” Zenger said. “I feel like we overcame the hump.”
In the final, Kiowa County led 11-4 after the first quarter and 27-11 at halftime versus a Longhorn squad with three seniors.
“We talk about it a lot is ‘Ride the roller coaster,’” Hoffman said. “The ups and downs, understand it’s going to happen. There’s no 15-point basket or anything like that. So I think the key for us was our leadership of our seniors and the other guys stepping up, just knowing what they want.”
Zenger sunk a big 3 with 4 minutes, 56 seconds left before intermission for a 16-4 advantage. HC, known for its size, has six players at least six foot or taller, twice as many as Kiowa County. However, the 9-4 Longhorns had a season-low in points.
“We were very physical,” Zenger said. “We got a lot of boards, a lot of putbacks, that was the key to the game was being physical.”