Wildcats fall to White City, finish fourth
By RANDY GONZALES
Coach Larry O'Connor remembers another team he had in the third-place game at a Class 1A state basketball tournament.
That was when O'Connor was at Brewster, and the Bulldogs went on to win two straight state titles.
"Down here, you have to get a starting point," O'Connor said. "Hopefully, this is a starting point."
O'Connor's Sharon Springs-Wallace County boys' basketball team lost the third-place game at the Class 1A Division II state basketball tournament, falling 53-46 to White City on Saturday afternoon at Gross Memorial Coliseum. The Wildcats lost their last two games of the season to finish at 19-7.
"The future looks good," O'Connor said. "Like I told these guys, this is a learning experience -- you got to start somewhere."
Wallace County, an uptempo team, was coming off a 75-63 loss to Fowler in Friday's semifinals. That game was up and down the court, too, and it showed on Saturday. Combine that with White City forcing a slow tempo, and it was too much for the Wildcats to overcome.
"They definitely got us out of our game a little bit," O'Connor said. "We had dead legs today. That game (Friday) against Fowler took it out of us."
White City coach Denny Crable said his squad likes to play at a deliberate pace.
"That's the way we've been all year," he said. "Sometimes, we struggle scoring, but usually we play real solid defense."
Wallace County's top scorer on the season, senior guard Eli Kuhlman, was held to six points on 2-of-11 shooting. Senior guard Gavin Mote scored a game-high 17 points, but got off only 11 shots.
"Eli, he just didn't have legs today," O'Connor said. "Gavin was the same way. They had to play a lot of minutes this weekend. They're our main scorers; when they're not scoring, seems everybody else gets in a rut. When they score, everybody takes off."
Wallace County finished the game shooting 36 percent from the floor and connected on just 1 of 12 3-point attempts.
"We thought if we could slow them down a little bit, that would be to our advantage," Crable said. "Worked out real well for us tonight."
Wallace County trailed 8-7 after the first quarter and 22-21 at halftime, and was down just a bucket entering the fourth, 41-39.
White City (21-4) still was protecting a two-point lead when senior Jaren Nittler scored with 2:12 remaining. After a Wildcat turnover, White City got a 12-foot jumper from junior Terrance Egger to make it 49-43. A pair of free throws from senior Dustin Ash with 42 seconds left gave the Huskies a 51-43 lead.
Wallace County got a 3-pointer from junior Cayden Daily with 22 seconds left to get within five points, but two foul shots by junior Sam Morgan with 17 seconds left iced the win for White City.
Nittler led White City with 15 points, and Morgan and Egger each finished with 12. The third-place finish tied for the best showing at state for White City; the Huskies also finished third in 2001.
O'Connor already was looking ahead to next year. This is the first time in program history the Wallace County boys have made it past the first round at state.
"We've got a young team," O'Connor said. "We'll be back."