WAKEENEY — The first three games have done nothing to temper the high expectations for standout senior guard John Pfannenstiel and the Ness City Eagles.
Ness City has turned in three dominating performances to start the season, including a 60-36 win over Oakley on Thursday night in the semifinals of the Purple and Gold Tournament at Trego Community High School.
Pfannenstiel, a first-team All-Area pick by The Hays Daily News last year, highlights Ness City's returners off last year’s 17-5 team. The 3-0 Eagles, ranked No. 3 in Class 2A in the Best of Kansas prep rankings, will play in the Purple and Gold final against Northern Valley or Trego at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“Obviously the goal is a state championship and I think we have the tools to do it,” Pfannenstiel said. “I’m going to give everything I got and give my heart to this team and the school. Hopefully that can take us as far as we can go.”
Pfannenstiel has looked up to the task in the early going, averaging 22 points. He led Ness City with 24 points in the Oakley win while also looking to distribute for his teammates.
“He’s a lot more reliant on the other guys (this season),” Ness City coach Brandt Rogers said of Pfannenstiel, who averaged 19.8 points per game last year. “He does his job. He worked his butt off this offseason. I bet he played in almost 80 games in the summer. The kid just works hard. He’s a great kid.”
Senior forward Andres Rios is also back after averaging 11.5 points last year while junior forward Landon Reinhardt, junior Easton Seib, sophomore guard Edwin Rodriguez, senior guard Angel Guzman and senior forward Clay Beutler are stepping into bigger roles this year.
“We’re molding Edwin Rodriguez into a pretty good player,” Rogers said. “He didn’t get to see the court much last year as a freshman. He hasn’t really gained much in height (5-7), but that dude is just so quick. He’s so agile on defense, he can move.”
“Andres has a really good chance to stretch the floor,” Rogers added. “He got in some foul trouble early (against Oakley), which isn’t typical of him. With him on the court, we definitely are a better team.”
Reinhardt scored 18 points in the Oakley win and helped spearhead the Eagles' press, which helped get Oakley out of sorts in the first half as Ness City opened up a 42-21 lead by halftime.
“We knew that we could really get after them up there,” Rogers said. “I knew Landon’s length was going to be a tough test. He’s a smart player, doesn’t usually commit too many fouls up at the front of the press. I knew that our quick guards could cause some problems.”
The Eagles, who lost in the sub-state semifinals to Macksville last year, have put an emphasis on defense this year.
“I think just sticking together more, and defensively we can always get better,” Pfannenstiel said of areas for improvement this year. “And just having more basketball IQ — that comes with guys growing and playing more varsity minutes. I think that we’re growing and it’s really turning out good for us.”
“Last year we defended well, but I want to hold every team that we play to under 50 points,” Rogers said. “The boys are kind of sold on that. So far, nobody’s really came close to it. I’m hoping that we can keep that streak alive.”
Ness City opened the season by beating Macksville 67-40 to avenge last season's season-ending loss and then began the Purple and Gold Tournament with a 62-24 win over La Crosse before handling Oakley.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve came in and done,” Pfannenstiel said. “We’ve played all summer long together, and the way the guys have worked, I’m really proud of them.”
“I am (encouraged), but nothing’s finished yet,” Rogers said. “We’re not going to settle for anything. I think the boys are encouraged and I hope that carries over with their attitude.”
On the girls side of the Purple and Gold Tournament, Oakley advanced with a 47-19 over La Crosse on Thursday and will meet the winner of Friday’s 6 p.m. semifinal between Victoria and Trego in the championship game at 6 p.m. Saturday.
The Northern Valley-Trego boys semifinal will be played at 7:30 p.m. Friday.