WaKEENEY, Kan. - St. Francis has battled sickness throughout the season, notably since January. Freshman point guard Ben Busse was ill this week. On Saturday, the Indians trailed by 15 points after the first quarter against Sylvan-Lucas.
However, the Indians overcame the health concerns and the significant deficit. SF rallied for a 48-40 victory in the 1A sub-state championship game at WaKeeney-Trego Community High School.
“They were so mad at themselves at the end of the first quarter,” SF coach Cory Busse said.
St. Francis improved to 16-7 and will play in the Class 1A state tournament at Dodge City’s United Wireless Arena next week. Sylvan-Lucas ended the season at 18-7.
Between quarters, Busse told his team it needed to cut the deficit to eight points by halftime. S-L opened the second quarter with a trey from sophomore Jaxson Heenan.
The Indians trailed 21-3. At that point, S-L was 5 of 5 from beyond the arc, including three treys by junior Jonah Huehl. He scored 13 points, and sophomore Alex Hernandez led with 15.
The Indians, led by Brady Dinkel, the team’s leading scorer and the only senior in the rotation, went on an 11-0 run. SF closed to 23-18 by halftime. Busse knew his team “was in a good spot” when SF went into the locker room.
The Indians effectively ran a 1-3-1, a defense St. Francis has used in the past, but not often this season.
“They went zone, and we didn’t attack it as well,” S-L coach Jeff Starkey said. “We spent the whole second quarter not attacking the zone, and then they get confidence, and we don’t. Then, third quarter, we tried to get things going. I think we got better shots, but by that time, they were rolling. We gave them confidence.”
After the early hot shooting, the Mustangs made just two treys the rest of the game, none in the fourth quarter.
“They had some issues with it,” coach Busse said. “And our boys just started slowing down and running our stuff and playing defense. We’ve got an awesome group of kids. They just gutted that out.”
Ben Busse, the coach’s son, was sick all day Friday and Saturday morning. He finished with nine points and two assists. Junior Jesse Baxter led with 14 points.
“That’s what we have been up against all year is just unbelievable sickness,” coach Busse said. “And finally this was supposed to be the first game when we were all healthy, and then Ben got sick.”
The 6-foot-3 Baxter and 6-4 junior forward Colton Neitzel haven’t been healthy for a month and a half. Junior Adam Krien suffered sickness in January and lost 14 pounds in two weeks.
“He didn’t get right until about a week ago honestly,” coach Busse said.
Baxter had the same illness and lost 12 pounds. Busse said the team has had at least one person sick all the time since Jan. 15.
“They just can’t breathe,” coach Busse said. “No energy. Flat-footed. Ben got it. And then they would leave. They’d think they are good for two days, and then bang, it’s just right back.”
Dinkel, who cleared 1,000 career points earlier this winter, leads the team with around 18 a game. He tallied 12. SF finished plus-four on the glass, notably plus-6 in the third quarter. Neitzel tallied seven rebounds.
“Their heart and their fire just is what turned it around,” coach Busse said.
In the third quarter, Dinkel hit a step-back 3 to tie the game at 23 with 6:03 left. SF took its first lead at 28-27 on a trey by freshman Preston Witzel with 4:24 remaining in the third. The Mustangs held a 34-33 lead entering the fourth.
SF led 39-36 midway through the fourth. During a timeout with 4:07 left, Busse looked at Dinkel and said, “We are going to win the game.”
“Somebody is going to figure out how we are going to do it,” coach Busse said.
Dinkel sunk a trey from just inside the volleyball spike line on the right side. When the ball went through, Dinkel kept his shooting arm raised in celebration. He looked over at Busse. It marked SF’s last field goal of the contest.
“Made more plays than we did,” Starkey said. “We just missed some shots, and they made shots.”
Baxter, Ben Busse and Dinkel each made a pair of free throws down the stretch to seal the comeback.
“And Brady was the one,” coach Busse said. “We had a ton of big plays. Big rebounds that nobody will remember that we had to have, and some big, big plays. But that one we needed.”