Former Brave Birch wins state title at Miege
When Martin Birch transferred to Bishop Miege after his sophomore year at Bonner Springs High School, he set off with the goal of becoming the best basketball player he could be.
Birch accomplished that goal, and the outcome was even better than he had imagined
Birch, now a senior, helped the Stags win the Class 5A state championship on Saturday in Topeka. The team’s 71-47 victory against Topeka West in the title game capped a 25-0 season. It was the first undefeated season in program history and the second state title. The first championship came in 2001.
The Stags had a roster loaded with talent on the offensive end, from shifty point guard and Alabama signee Trevor Releford to future Oklahoma wide receiver Justin McKay, 3-point threat Rodney Givens and big man Justin Okafor. Those guys did the big things that made the Stags dominant, but they needed a few players who could do the little things — give Releford and Givens a rest and play lock-down perimeter defense. That’s where Birch found his niche.
As a junior, he became a part-time starter and worked hard to improve his defense, eventually earning the teams’ defensive stopper and sixth man award.
“I wasn’t the best defensive player when I got (to Miege),” Birch said. “I was lazy at times and selfish. I worked on help-side defense and became committed to that (side of the floor).”
Most good basketball players want to prove their worth by scoring baskets. That is how Birch played on every team he was a member of before joining the Stags — including at Bonner Springs, where he shot a lot but didn’t do much else.
At Miege, Birch reinvented himself as a player.
He was usually tasked with guarding the opponents’ best player, which was not a natural role for him.
“I think I really improved this year,” said Birch, a 6-foot guard. “Sometimes I go against bigger players.”
Birch defended a 6-foot-5 player in the state championship game.
“I have to use my quickness to stay in front of them. I really need to deny them even getting the ball,” Birch said of his role.
After exerting so much effort on the court in the title game, Birch celebrated the championship with his family by devouring an eight-ounce steak at Outback Steakhouse. It was a laid-back celebration for a guy who, by nature, is pretty laid back.
Birch spends his time off the court doing what most teenagers do. He hangs out with friends, sleeps, watches television and is constantly on Facebook. But his favorite thing to do is eat.
Birch replenishes the energy exerted on the court by eating a lot. He said he rarely sees a plate of food he dislikes. Steak, enchiladas, chicken, and his favorite — ribs from Gates Bar-B-Q.
“I like pretty much everything,” Birch said.
He is also a big college basketball fan, so he is really looking forward to the NCAA Tournament. He is a big Kansas University fan, thanks to his grandpa, and a Syracuse fan.
Overall, transferring worked out well for Birch. He said he enjoyed his senior season and came away with great memories. In addition to the state title, the Stags beat their opponents by an average of 22 points per game. They pummeled 5A and 6A schools, and they beat Creighton (Neb.) Prep at the Quest Center in perhaps their toughest game on the schedule.
Coach Rick Zych said Birch was a key player for the state championship team.
“(Martin) provided defense, rebounding and toughness for us and really brought some energy out onto the floor,” Zych said. “He helped us keep most of our opponents under 50 points most games.”
Only 10 teams eclipsed 50 points against the Stags.
“(Martin) is a happy-go-lucky kid and really fit in well at Miege,” Zych said. “He ended up being a typical kid at our school. He wanted to be a good player and thrived in the private school setting.”
It was not always easy for Birch at Miege. The second game of his career with the Stags he went up against his former school, Bonner Springs, in the Metro Prep Classic. They destroyed the Braves, 118-36.
“It was a little weird,” Birch said of that game. “I kind of felt bad for them.”
Birch now turns his attention to what he is going to do after he graduates. He might run track this year, but does not know what events he will participate in. As for basketball, he has talked to some schools about playing in college and will perhaps go to a junior college on a scholarship.
“I plan on attending college and working on improving myself,” Birch said.