The cowboy boots worn by Joe Hertel have became a signature of the longtime coach of the Thomas More Prep-Marian boys’ basketball team.

And for a few minutes Tuesday night, with nary a person left in Al Billinger Fieldhouse, Hertel sat down in the bleachers and kicked up his right leg, lifting his boot up on his left knee to rest.

Just like you can’t take away Hertel’s boots that have roamed the TMP bench for decades, so too, you couldn’t take away the smile on the coach’s face.

In fact, Hertel was as giddy as he has ever been.

That says a lot about the accomplishment for this year’s team, coming from a guy who has coached the school to league titles in the past and, oh yeah, a few state titles.

“I am,” the coach said about being giddy.

“There isn’t any question about it. I seriously am not a man of no words for any situation. But, I mean, I’m still just kind of shaking my head at the shear improbable nature of what we just accomplished. It’s pretty amazing. I think it’s going to go down as one of the most satisfying accomplishments, even though, for this group, it’s just a small trophy. For them, it’s huge. It was my plea to them after the game to not be satisfied. The playoffs are a big reason I live for two weeks.”

The Monarchs, left for dead by many after a slow start to the season and a rough patch during the Mid-Continent League tournament, pulled off the unexpected with a 57-55 win Tuesday night against Plainville. The victory for his young team capped another MCL regular season crown in the tough league, which included eight straight regular season MCL victories against team’s such as Phillipsburg, Plainville and Norton.

“I talked to the kids after the game … about how I’ve had higher rewards,” Hertel said. “My gosh, we have a couple state titles. But, seriously, this little ol’ bitty MCL title is a huge trophy for this young team. I’m not a gambling man, but I wouldn’t have given you a plug nickel that we were going to contend for a league title. And yet, here we are.”

The Monarchs dug themselves a hole earlier this year by dropping their first MCL game at Hill City. They followed that with a win in the league tourney opener, then lost two straight — including one to Plainville.

Tuesday’s game was a microcosm of TMP’s season.

The Monarchs (11-8) fell behind early, trailing 15-12 after the first quarter and 31-25 at halftime in a tightly officiated game that saw both teams in the bonus in the first quarter.

But typical of a Hertel coached team, the Monarchs stayed the course — and the game plan. TMP trailed by eight just seconds into the third quarter before finishing strong.

Multiple players scored in a 10-0 run that gave TMP a 35-33 lead with 5:06 to play in the third quarter.

Plainville (13-7) pushed the lead back to three before TMP lead 41-40 entering the fourth after a bucket by junior Bruce Chiu.

“We knew it was going to come down to the end,” said Plainville coach Chris Drees, a former TMP assistant under Hertel. “He has the team I had last year with experience-wise. But you could see a major difference in their road games and their home games. We knew they just beat Norton and P-Burg here. It’s not like we didn’t know it was going to be tough to come in here and win. We absolutely did. I thought our guys were prepared. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a bounce or two at the end … but that’s the name of the game.”

The Monarchs pushed the advantage to 47-42 — their biggest lead of the game — with just more than seven minutes remaining.

But Plainville senior Hayden Friend scored five of his 15 points in a 10-2 run to make it 52-49 with 2:33 to go.

Junior Luke Ruder hit a 3-pointer from the left corner, knotting the game, and when junior David McFarland hit a shot just inside the arc after a Plainville turnover, TMP had a 54-52 lead with 1:27 to go.

“We’ve been in tight games all year,” Drees said. “There was never any panic. I didn’t see it on my kids’ faces, and I didn’t see it on his kids’ either. I’ve got a veteran ball club that’s been in these situations before. They know what to do. That’s why I hardly ever call timeouts. I trust what they’re going to do. It was a good game for the fans. Unfortunately only one of us could win. Credit to him, he found a way.”

Plainville would tie the game with two free throws before Ruder came up big again, this time finding nothing but the bottom of the net after a bank shot with 39 seconds remaining — putting TMP ahead 56-54.

The Cardinals were called for a charging foul at the other end, but the Monarchs couldn’t convert at the free-throw line after inbounding the ball and being fouled.

Friend raced to the other end, driving to the hoop and barely missing a layup while being fouled. But he missed the first of two free throws before making the second, pulling Plainville within 56-55 with 8 seconds to play.

The Monarchs made one of two free throws at the other end after the inbounds, but Friend missed a 3-point attempt with seconds to play that was rebounded by McFarland — who held on to the ball to secure the win.

“The difference now between early in the season is I think we would have resorted to shooting a bunch of long balls at that point,” Hertel said. “And we’ve matured a ton since then. We know that we have the people and the strategy and the chemistry that we’re going to get back in ball games. It’s a resilient group — a young, resilient group. My hat’s off to their effort.”

Junior Creighton Renz led TMP with 12 points, and junior Michael Lager added 10 as the Monarchs got crucial points in the paint. Ruder finished with 11.

TMP will host Hutchinson-Trinity in a non-league game Thursday at Al Billinger Fieldhouse to close out the regular season.

TMP girls 68

Plainville 38

Mid-Continent League foes will be happy to see the talented TMP girls’ senior class graduate.

The Monarchs have dominated the MCL since joining the league three years ago, and Tuesday night, the team capped its third straight regular season league crown with a dominating 68-38 win over Plainville

“When you have eight players that score for you on a daily basis, it’s tough,” Plainville coach Kate Lehman said about TMP.

“It’s like you cut off one head, and more grow back. It’s just hard to know who to key in on. And we’re not good enough defensively to stop a whole entire team.”

Eight different players scored for TMP (18-1), led by junior Kayla Viztum’s game-high 17 points. Seniors Deonna Wellbrock (12), Madyson Koerner (15) and Katelyn Zimmerman (12) also hit double figures.

“It’s a good basketball league, and they’ve played a lot of good teams over the years they’ve been here,” said TMP coach Rose McFarland, who has her team ranked No. 2 in Class 3A.

“When they were freshman, we were in a different league. Since we’ve been in the MCL , they’ve been successful. It’s nice to have seniors.”

TMP led 22-11 after the first quarter and 41-21 at the break. By the end of the third quarter, the Monarchs had doubled up the Cardinals, 54-27.

The lead grew to as many as 33 in the fourth quarter as the clock ran continuously.

Junior Maeson Dewey led the Cardinals with 13 points.

“I’ve said this before: We don’t rely on any one player,” McFarland said. “I think we have a really good team as far as a unit. If someone is off, someone else steps up and makes us successful.”

Boys

TMP 57, Plainville 55

Plainville 15 16 9 15 — 55

TMP 12 13 16 16 — 57

Plainville — Cellmer 6, Davis 2, Boresh 2, Reif 8, Hayden Friend 15, Gillum 4, Copeland 5, Casey 8, Wilkerson 5.

TMP — McFarland 6, Luke Ruder 11, Lowe 7, Chiu 4, Werth 3, Hagans 2, Creighton Renz 12, Mayers 2, Michael Lager 10.

Girls

TMP 68, Plainville 38

Plainville 11 10 6 11 — 38

TMP 22 19 13 14 – 68

Plainville — A. Dewey 8, Myers 8, Maeson Dewey 13, McClellan 2, Casey 7.

TMP — M. Koenigsman 6, Schippers 2, Deonna Wellbrock 12, Lowe 2, Madyson Koerner 15, Yost 2, Katelyn Zimmerman 12, Kayla Vitztum 17.