Ness City on to the semifinals
Published on -3/7/2013, 10:00 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
MANHATTAN -- From Jan. 11 to Feb. 15, the Ness City High School boys' basketball team went 4-6. The Eagles had a multitude of problems, including some internal issues, team chemistry, an ankle injury to senior Colin Foos, meshing Foos with the rest of the team when he returned, and simply having fun.
Ness City, which didn't lose a game before the holiday break, and rose to No. 4 in Class 2A, tumbled out of the state rankings. Still, Coach Matt Overlease said he "never once gave up on them."
The Eagles came back together, battled through the difficult Plainville sub-state and, on Wednesday, delivered a much-needed, relief-filled 53-48 victory against Lyndon in the first round of the Class 2A state tournament at Kansas State University's Bramlage Coliseum.
"I just know this group of guys, and I know what fight they have and the love for any sporting event whatsoever," Overlease said. "I knew they were going to continue to fight."
Ness City, the No. 7 seed, improved to 17-7, while Lyndon, the No. 2 seed and ranked third in the final coaches' rankings, saw its season end at 22-2. Overlease, in his third year, had qualified the Eagles to state in his first two seasons, but Ness City lost in the first round both times.
Overlease had trouble finding words when asked if a burden was lifted off his shoulders. He dropped his head slightly and said, "There's one word, and that's yes."
"It's great," Foos said.
"There is no other way to describe it. Coming here and getting beat here in the first game for two years in a row, it sags you down."
The Eagles will play third-seeded Belleville-Republic County (21-3) on Friday at 8:15 p.m. Lyndon, state runner-up from two years ago and making its fourth straight appearance, was a veteran-laden team with six seniors.
Ness City, with nine seniors, was outsized against Lyndon, but finished with a 41-28 rebounding edge, including 22 offensive rebounds.
"It's just physicality and blocking out," Foos said. "If you don't block out, you don't win."
The rebounding, some late-game pressure defense, and a big mental lapse from Lyndon helped Ness City hang on despite missing five straight free throws late, and finishing 10 of 20 from the foul line.
The Tigers kept it close and tied the game shortly after halftime, but the Eagles never trailed from the 6 :46 mark of the second quarter. Senior Scott Farwell led Lyndon with 11 points.
"We knew this was going to be one of the most physical games, the guards, everybody from Lyndon played extremely physical," Overlease said. "We knew we would have to be strong with the ball, and we didn't do that at some times, but then when we really needed to, we stepped up and made plays late. Every time Lyndon would make a run, we would settle down and have an answer for them."
Foos believed Ness City found its stride last week in sub-state. After a close first-round win against Hill City, the Eagles had big victories versus Mankato-Rock Hills and Oakley. Then, Ness City defeated a Tiger team that had lost just once, 62-50 to Olpe on Feb. 1.
"Just working hard in practice and trying to get our team chemistry together, because it was obviously not," Foos said. "That was the main thing, just being able to read other."
Lyndon led 15-14 after the first quarter, but Ness City took a 29-27 halftime lead and 41-36 after three quarters.
Senior Dalton Gantz, who finished with 11 points, hit two treys in the final 1:12 of the game to bump the lead to 47-36. Then, Gantz forced three turnovers and senior Koltyn Ratliff (team-high 15 points) had another steal in the final 6:40.
"It just seemed like we were stuck in the mud and just didn't want to go get the ball," Lyndon coach Brian Spencer said.
Gantz's last steal came with Ness City leading 50-45 with 90 seconds left. He stripped the ball from Lyndon senior point guard Joey Ramsey in the half court.
"It's the same thing that I have been talking to him about for two and a half years, and that's the one-handed passes," Spencer said. "He tries to drop it off one-handed, and he is in a situation where he is not the most physical kid in the world, and you are playing with some physical and strong kids."
Lyndon had two chances to close the gap, but Ness City forced the Tigers into two long missed treys from Ramsey. Then, Lyndon called a timeout with 47 seconds left, but didn't foul for more than half a minute.
"We had no clue what we were doing," Spencer said.
Finally, senior Tucker VonLehe went to the foul line with 12.4 seconds left and made two free throws to effectively seal the victory.
"It was a struggle there for a couple of games, and we had some people hanging our heads and not sure how good we could be, but we just kept rallying around each other," Overlease said.