DODGE CITY — Veteran Sharon Springs-Wallace County boys’ basketball coach Larry O’Connor said prior to Wednesday night’s opening quarterfinal Class 1A Division II game with Moscow that his Wildcats were “just as good” as last year’s state championship team.
Well, his Wildcats lived to play another day as they held off a furious Moscow rally in the final 3 minutes, 4 seconds for a dramatic 58-54 triumph and will now play the 8:15 p.m. Friday semifinal against McPherson-Elyria Christian, a 53-42 winner over Axtell for the right to defend their 2017 crown.
For a team that came in with a one-game over .500 record (12-11), O’Connor’s team looked nothing like a team that was struggling.
“I knew if we got through sub-state and got here, we had a chance to make some noise,” O’Connor said afterward. “We have a tough, tough league (Northwest Kansas) and there are six teams who are playing in a state tournament somewhere. So we’ve had six losses come just from those teams.”
Replacing four starters from the 2017 title group, losing a 6-6 player just after the Christmas break to an ACL tear also slowed the Wildcats progress, O’Connor said.
“We’ve been playing much better lately, and our young kids are growing up,” he said.
The Wildcats, after trailing 25-24 at intermission, opened the third quarter on a 14-0 run to go up 38-25 at the 1:40 mark of the period and went into the final stanza up by 10, 40-30.
After extending the lead to 50-38 with 3:04 remaining, O’Connor watched his young team nearly unravel, committing several turnovers that led to Moscow’s late surge to make it as tense as a finish as one could ask for.
“I thought early in the second half we kind of took it to ‘em with our defense,” O’Connor said. “They (Moscow) got a little tired. Our kids don’t get to rest. We condition the heck out of them.”
But Moscow once again showed its own mettle, getting consecutive 3-pointers from Rafael Granillo and a layup from Justyn Allen at the 2:04 mark to pull within 54-46.
Sharon Springs got a bucket from Carlin Springsteel at 1:45 to go up by 10, but the southern ‘Cats made one final rush.
Kage Allen got a reverse layup and a traditional 3-point play off a made free throw at 1:19, added two more free throws at 0:25 and then after another Sharon Springs miscue, Jalen Shaddix scored on a layup and made free throw with 0:08 remaining and it was a 56-54 nail-biter.
Then, with just 0:06 on the clock, Moscow’s Javier Marquez was whistled for an intentional foul, sending Seth Johnson to the free throw line where he cashed in both charities for a four-point lead. And by rule, the northern Wildcats got to keep possession and simply ran out the remaining few seconds.
“We played a tough opponent that’s pretty good,” Moscow coach Brett Harp said of Sharon Springs. “They’ve been here before, they’ve got the experience and understand how to win.”
Trever Medina had 22 to lead all scorers for the northern ‘Cats and also pulled down 10 rebounds for a double-double. Luke Johnson tacked on 10 points for the winners.
“We’ve got some kids out there who just know how to battle,” O’Connor said of his squad. “Nobody thought we’d be here. Nobody gave us much of a chance. But here we are. We’re excited to have a chance to coome back and play another day.”
Kage Allen finished with 15 points to lead the Moscow ‘Cats scoring attack. Marquez added 10 for the only other double-figure scorer.