HAYS, Kan. - On the 61-mile bus ride from Ness City to Hays for the Class 2A state tournament championship, the Eagle coaching staff told the team Hutchinson Trinity would dedicate its defense to containing senior standout point guard John Pfannenstiel.
Ness City Eagle #21 Andres Rios drives to the basket in the first quarter. The Inman Teutons faced the Ness City Eagles in a Class 2A State Championship Semi-Final game held at Gross Memorial Coliseum on the campus of Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas on March 8, 2019. (Photo: Joey Bahr, www.joeybahr.com)
In the semifinals, Trinity was effective in corralling St. Mary’s Colgan leading scorer Aaron Higginbotham.
For the title, Trinity face-guarded Pfannenstiel throughout the game, mainly with senior Alex Hammersmith. The Celtics held Pfannenstiel to just seven points, easily his lowest point total all winter.
However, the rest of the Eagles performed at a high level in a 67-55 victory versus the Celtics for the Class 2A title from Fort Hays State University’s Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Ness City shot 71 percent in the first half and 64 percent for the contest.
“I have got to give credit to my man John,” Ness City coach Brandt Rogers said. “We went into halftime and when I was getting in there, he was giving the speech of ‘Guys, I don’t care if I score three or five or 25, I want to win this thing. Somebody step up.’ It is going to take an effort, and it’s what it took. Everybody stepped up. I am so proud of these guys.”
The No. 4 seeded Eagles completed a wild postseason, went 22-4 and won the first boys’ basketball title in school history in their first ever state finals berth. NC had captured its first five playoff contests by single figures. Trinity moved to 1-2 all-time in state games and played its first final since ’98. The second-seeded Celtics finished 22-5.
From its senior trio, the Eagles had 20 points from Andres Rios, 11 by Landon Reinhardt and 10 from Angel Guzman.
“We have worked our butts of, and we have come such a long way, and I am so proud of these guys,” Pfannenstiel said. “I love them to death.”
Junior Easton Seib hit a buzzer-beater to send a first-round contest against Bishop Seabury to overtime.
Seib, who averages three points a game, finished with 16 on 5 of 6 shooting and 3 of 4 from beyond the arc Saturday. He easily had his season-high.
“We knew that if they were going to take him out, we have got to step up and that’s what we did,” Reinhardt said. “I am so proud of (Seib). A lot of his stuff went unnoticed this season. He hit huge shots this tournament.”
Seib had tallied double figures just one time, an 11-point outing in a blowout against Hodgeman County on Dec. 11.
“I told Easton that if he has got the open shot, he has got to take it or he is not playing,” Rogers said. “And he took the open shot, and I will put my money on him. It’s awesome.”
In front of a massive Ness City crowd, Rogers took out the seniors in the final seconds. Pfannenstiel and Reinhardt stood next to each other and wiped their tears with their jerseys.
“This is a dream that you have in the backyard when you are a little kid and to see it finally come true is mind-blowing and it brings tears to your eyes,” Pfannenstiel added.
“It still hasn’t gone through my mind,” Reinhardt added. “We are state champs.”
Guzman wore a big smile. Rios sat in the chair, head down, emotional. After the game, Rios remained teary-eyed on the indoor track adjacent to the basketball court.
“This is just crazy,” Rios said. “The hard work we have all been putting in before the season, two-a-days, morning practices, after school.”
Senior Clay Beutler, who had five treys off the bench in heroics in the semifinal victory against top-seeded Inman, delivered a big 3 well beyond NBA range in the first half. Pfannenstiel averages 22 points. He finished 3 of 4 from the field and never reached the foul line. His previous season low was 13 in two games.
“Everybody was big,” Rios said. “I know John, he is a great player, excellent player. Everybody has to step up, be on a whole other level. Our whole starters, our bench, I am just so proud of everybody. Everybody stepped up, and I appreciate it.”
Ness City led 18-15 after the first quarter and 36-27 at halftime. In a five-point semifinal win against Colgan, Trinity limited the Panthers to just 31 points for the game.
“We knew the Rios kid was going to be a load,” Trinity coach Joe Hammersmith said. “We knew they had other kids, and they made the plays. They made shots, and some contested, falling away, this and that. That’s just why basketball will kind of drive you crazy sometimes, but it’s hats off to them. Our kids played hard.”
Trinity closed to 42-40 late in the third quarter when senior Kaleb Hammeke drove in, missed a floater, grabbed his own rebound and scored. Hammeke, a Fort Hays signee, had 13 points and seven rebounds, though was 1 of 7 from beyond his arc.
His brother, sophomore Lucas, delivered 17 points on 7 of 13 shooting, and sophomore reserve Phillipe Manga scored 12 points on a perfect 3 of 3 from the field and 6 of 6 from the foul line.
“We just tried to hedge a lot of the ball screens,” Rogers said. “They really liked to come over the ball screen, one dribble, pull back and shoot, and we just used our length and kind of diverted his shot, made him take that extra dribble that he is not used to taking.”
However, Reinhardt delivered a huge play to bump the lead to 44-40. Reinhardt collected the offensive rebound on the left block and had his back to the basket against Trinity 6-foot-9 senior Joshua Bridgewater.
His dad, Derek, is the current Ness City superintendent and former Larned middle school principal. When Landon was younger and living in Larned, he often had to wait 30 minutes for his dad to finish up work at 4 p.m. Landon practiced trick shots around the basket. He moved to Ness his eighth grade year.
The work paid off.
The 6-3 Reinhardt, with his back still turned, flipped the ball over Bridgewater and off the backboard for a basket. After the game, Reinhardt found his dad on the track, who lifted his son off the ground in a big, teary-eyed bear hug.
“He does that messing around in practice,” Rogers said. “And he gets yelled at it for it, but for some weird reason, it just always goes in. … It kind of scared me, but glad it went in.”
Then Pfannenstiel, who finished with two assists, found Rios for a jumper.
“He wanted it, and we wanted it in his hands,” Rogers said of Rios. “The determination in that kid is unreal.”
Reinhardt gave NC a 49-43 lead at the end of the third quarter off another offensive rebound and score against Bridgewater.
In the fourth, Seib hit another big 3 on a wide-open look from the left side for a 54-47 lead. A variety of Eagles, including Seib, Reinhardt, Guzman, and Rios, made free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
“This is such a great feeling for the town of Ness City,” Pfannenstiel said.