Kaw Valley Kings
Bobcats knock off Piper to claim first league title since 1996
The game with impossible expectations lived up to its billing.
After weeks of advanced hype, the surging Basehor-Linwood boys basketball team entered Piper on Tuesday night with something to prove.
A program left for dead had risen from the ashes and was sporting an undefeated league record. Standing in the way of perfection was longtime nemesis Piper, a team that entered Tuesday's action also undefeated in Kaw Valley League play.
The Bobcats absorbed every knockout punch Piper threw during a tight up-and-down contest, and returned with more firepower than even the most devoted Bobcat fan thought they possessed.
The Bobcats hung around the entire game and played an almost-perfect fourth quarter to knock off Piper, 54-42.
"It was a huge win," BLHS senior Austin Knipp said. "It shows that we are for real and not just some team that is getting lucky all the time. It's huge."
BLHS began the game displaying obvious nerves. Point guard Chandler Schaake recorded two quick fouls in the first quarter and was yanked. Knipp, normally an impeccable free throw shooter, almost didn't draw iron on his first attempt from the stripe.
Piper was not able to capitalize on a BLHS team that was perhaps too eager to show it belonged. A nip-and-tuck first half ended in a draw, 21-21.
"We were just trying to feel them out," Knipp said. "I don't think we were too sure that we could win."
The second half began in disastrous form. Piper began the third quarter by ripping off an 8-0 run. Almost before the Bobcats could catch their breath, a halftime tie had evaporated and turned into an eight-point deficit. BLHS coach Mike McBride called a time out and gathered his troops.
"I didn't know," McBride said when asked if he thought the game was slipping away. "They came out in an 8-0 run; I didn't know how these guys would respond. They had never been in this situation before. I just called the timeout and told them to settle down."
The Bobcats heeded his advice, and quickly began their comeback. BLHS trailed by just one at the end of the third quarter, 33-32.
"I think once they saw that they couldn't break us, we kind of got our confidence back, came back, and played to win," McBride said. "We didn't know what to expect. Every game where we have been in that situation, we have settled down and played. The kids know if they settle down, they can go and win the game."
Basehor-Linwood played the fourth quarter as a runt on the playground finally standing up to the school bully. The Bobcats kept pouring it on until the game was safely out of reach, outscoring the Pirates 22-9 in the final frame.
Knipp scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the win. He went 10-for-12 from the free throw line, including several freebies late that sealed the win.
What was going through Knipp's mind as he took to the free throw line several times in the fourth quarter?
"I thought about how since middle school they would beat us by 30 points every time," Knipp said. "I was telling myself that it isn't going to happen again. I knew that my free throws were going to go in."
Knipp cannot recall ever having beaten Piper in basketball, at any level.
Schaake scored 12 points, dished out six assists, and grabbed two rebounds. McBride said after the game that it was the best game he has ever seen from his point guard.
Schaake said after the game that his individual success was bred purely from a desire to beat Piper. He said the locker room was more business-like than usual after the game.
"We didn't celebrate that much, because we kind of expected to win," Schaake said.
Tanner Swafford added 10 points and nine rebounds. Anthony Pierce had five points, three assists, two rebounds, and two steals off the bench.
Knipp, who played all 32 minutes, said his post-game celebration would be limited to a trip to McDonald's.
"I kind of held it in," Knipp said of his post-game excitement. "We might see them in sub-state. So I held it in, but it's great."
The fourth quarter performance was even more shocking when put into proper context. BLHS was playing its third game in four days, almost unheard of during the regular season of high school basketball. After defeating Sumner Academy on Saturday, the Bobcats trounced Santa Fe Trail 66-41 on Monday, a game which had been rescheduled because of last week's inclement weather. BLHS also missed two practices last week due to the weather.
"Obviously, you have to be in great condition," McBride said. "We came back after those two snow days; we had two kids puke because I wasn't going to let us fall. We ran and ran and ran in (Thursday's) practice.
"A lot of people would say, 'Oh, it's the end of the year and I want to save our legs.' Not when you work as hard as we do at the beginning of the year; we can't afford to lose that. I tell my kids, you go three and a half hours in one of my practices, an hour and a half game shouldn't be very long."
McBride said after the game that "a lot" of thought had been put into deciding how the Bobcats would match up defensively against Pirate stars Nate Daniels and Austin Bond.
Knipp drew the unenviable task of guarding the 6-foot-3 Daniels. After exploding for 14 early points, Daniels was held scoreless down the stretch.
"There wasn't anything special that we did (against Daniels)," McBride said. "We just played. There was no secret to what we did tonight."
McBride was quick to curb the post-game exuberance by making sure that it didn't turn into contentment.
"I told them enjoy it tonight, but this school has never been undefeated in league, and let's get one on Friday," McBride said of Friday night's home finale against Bonner Springs.
The coach was quick to point out that the team's focus remains on the future. Reaching the state tournament was the Bobcats preseason goal. They likely will have to get through Piper in sub-state to realize that dream. If at all, the rematch would occur in the finals, as Piper (15-3) is slated to have the No. 1 seed and BLHS (15-4) is expected to be seeded second in the eight-team bracket.
"This is not our goal," McBride said. "I have said that from day one. Our goal is to go to state. Piper will be fired up for us; they are a great basketball team. Hopefully we can win the games up to that point."