WAKEENEY, Kan. - Ness City trailed Almena-Northern Valley by 11 midway through the second quarter and was down seven at intermission.
In the second half, NC improved its free throw shooting, had a big third quarter from senior Andres Rios, and took advantage of an intentional foul on standout senior point guard John Pfannenstiel with 7.9 seconds left.
After the foul, Pfannenstiel sunk four straight free throws, and the Eagles won 55-52 on Saturday night at Trego Community High School in the Purple and Gold championship game.
“That pretty well decided the game when that happened,” Northern Valley coach Chuck Fessenden said of the intentional foul.
Last year, Northern Valley defeated NC in the title game and eventually captured the 1A, Division II state championship
“That stung a little bit last year, and kind of popped us in the mouth and we definitely came out and wanted some revenge tonight,” Pfannenstiel said.
This winter, with many of the key players on both squads back, Ness City (4-0) is ranked fourth in Class 2A and Northern Valley (2-1) stands fifth in 1A.
“The boys have pretty high ambitions this year, and they want to go undefeated,” Rogers said.
In the third quarter, NC outrebounded Northern Valley, 17-4, behind a big performance from Rios. For the second straight game, Rios had foul trouble early and sat virtually all of the first half.
In the third quarter, Rios scored all six of his points, grabbed five rebounds and had a key assist and steal. Senior Landon Reinhardt collected six rebounds in the quarter, too. Overall, he had 15 points and 13 rebounds.
“I knew he was going to be fresh,” Rogers said of Rios. “All their guys had played the whole game and we were going to give it to him, and go to him, and go to him, and he worked his butt off on the boards. That’s the kind of thing that leaders do.”
Ness City led 47-43 entering the fourth quarter, but NV took a 52-51 lead with 1 minute, 49 seconds left on a jumper from senior Caden Bach, who paced the Huskies with 17 points. NC had two chances to take the lead but missed both times.
With 11.2 seconds remaining, Bach fell in the backcourt and was called for traveling. NV called timeout. Northern Valley had two fouls to give, and coach Chuck Fessenden told his players to foul to halt the Eagles’ defense.
Pfannenstiel collected the inbounds pass, and dribbled to midcourt, and Northern Valley fouled him. Immediately, Rogers lept from the bench and called for an intentional foul.
“The officials knew we were going to foul,” Fessenden said. “They could hear us talking to them, and the kid we had on him kind of rode him for awhile, and then of course, he kind of grabbed him from behind, so they are going to call it intentional.”
The officials agreed, and the Huskies were issued the intentional foul with 7.9 seconds left.
“I just knew that Coach Fessenden was going to come out and try to foul us right away, and I just asked the official ‘Make sure he makes a real play on the ball,’” Rogers said. “And from my vantage point, he had both of his hands wrapped completely around John’s waist, and that’s an automatic intentional foul in the rule book.”
Pfannenstiel made all four foul shots.
“We would like to see them just call it when he was riding him, and then they waited,” Fessenden said. “It’s kind of a bad deal, because they essentially decide the game then, because you are putting their best kid at the line and shooting two free throws, and they are getting the ball, too.”
Then, Northern Valley standout senior guard Riley Sides missed two long 3-pointers at the end.
“I felt like it was an intentional, and the refs called it that way,” Pfannenstiel said. “So I was just happy that I could sink my free throws.”
Immediately after the contest, Rogers picked up a banner his wife, Haily, had made that commemorated Pfannenstiel’s 1,000 career points.
Pfannenstiel needed 15 to reach 1,000 and finished with 26. He took pictures with his classmates, teammates and family with the banner.
“It was a big surprise, but I couldn’t do it without my teammates and my coach, and the fans, so I am really thankful for everyone,” Pfannenstiel said.
He went 9 of 10 from the foul line and helped Ness City shoot 16 of 23 on free throws. NC, with Pfannenstiel taking all the foul shots, did not miss a free throw in the second half.
“I think I calmed down a little bit throughout the game, and just let things come to me more rather than trying to force,” Pfannenstiel said. “Like last year, I believe I forced a little bit. And I think I have grown as a player and being able to get the other guys involved more and help out in other ways and score the ball, and I think that has helped us this year.”
The Eagles never subbed after the break. Ness City used its four timeouts and significantly slowed the tempo in early fourth quarter when Northern Valley went a diamond-and-one on Pfannenstiel to give the Eagles rest.
“It was really honestly leadership, and we just needed to get that fire under us,” Pfannenstiel said. “I thought we came out a little flat, but halftime coach had us going, and I think we just came out with some fire.”
In the first half, Northern Valley led 24-14 after the first quarter. Pfannenstiel, who knows Sides well from playing together in the summer, guarded him all game and limited him to seven points.
“John thought that he knew his game enough, and he wanted to do it just to prove to himself that he could do it, that he could shut the best player on the floor down,” Rogers said. “And I think he did a pretty good job.”
With 3 minutes, 41 seconds left in the first half, the Huskies were 13 of 18 (72 percent) from the field. However, in the third quarter, Rios held limit the Huskies to 3 of 11 shooting and lead the comeback.
“We went diamond and one there on Pfannenstiel,” Fessenden said. “And then they evidently experienced that some, because then they went high post, low post, and they attacked it pretty well there for awhile, but then we were struggling offensively. We didn’t move and stuff, and I thought they picked up the defense a little bit, too, they were more aggressive.”