By CHAD SIMON
COLBY — In January, Thomas More-Prep Marian High School boys’ basketball coach Joe Hertel traveled to watch Concordia play, and begin game planning for the Panthers.
Hertel had a feeling if his Monarchs were going to make their first appearance in the Class 4A Division II state tournament, they would have to beat the Panthers.
Mission accomplished. The Monarchs won 69-59 Saturday night in the Colby sub-state, making their first state appearance since winning a Class 4A title in 2007
In addition to employing the Monarchs' full-court press, Hertel formulated a plan to try to shut down the Panther interior players and make their guards beat his Monarchs.
“We knew that he (Concordia junior Cooper Holmes) likes to catch the ball on the block and we wanted to force him outside,” Hertel said. “He hurt us with a couple of threes, but we wanted him to be forced to beat us from 12-15 (feet) or farther.”
Hertel scrapped the press portion of the plan as Concordia had no problem defeating it on its way to 19-13 after the first eight minutes.
“That press gave us a lot of mileage this year. I thought it was us. It was our identity, but it wasn’t right tonight,” Hertel said.
With the press junked for the night, senior Kameron Schmidt went to work as he scored 11 of his team-high 19 points in the second quarter. He scored about every way possible as he made 3-pointer, a few two-point buckets and a pair of free throws.
TMP executed a nice inbound play to tie the game at 32 as the ball was lobbed to junior big man Jared Vitztum. He quickly passed the ball to junior Peyton Hoffman, catching a stunned Concordia team off guard, for an easy two. Hoffman then got a quick a steal and TMP got another easy basket to take the lead for good at 34-32.
TMP’s 25 second-quarter points erased the six point first-quarter deficit on its way to a 38-32 halftime lead.
TMP extended its lead in the third quarter. The Monarchs looked as if they would lead 53-42 going into the fourth, but Holmes scored on an awkward looking 3 as time expired. The officials conferred and credited the basket to Concordia to cut the lead to 53-45.
A shallow bench and foul trouble caught up with the Panthers in the final quarter. Within the first 2.5 minutes, junior Ethan Bechard was whistled for his fourth foul and Homes fouled out.
Over the next few minutes it was senior Cameron Fouts’ turn to step up for the Monarchs on the offensive end. His last bucket came as TMP had gone to its four corners offense to eat up the game clock. Fouts flashed to the middle of the lane where Vitztum made a nice 30 foot pass to the wide open Fouts who scored the easy basket.
TMP was sent to the line often as Concordia could only hope the Monarchs would miss their free-throws in the fourth quarter. TMP missed often, making just 6-14 shots from the charity stripe in the fourth. The Monarch finished the game 15 of 27 from the foul line.
”I was a little embarrassed by the way we finished the ballgame at the foul line, but this time of the year it is just survive and advance.” Hertel said.
This will be Hertel’s seventh trip to a state championship tournament in his 30 years of coaching at TMP, and third in the past 10 years. TMP won the 3A title in 2005 and 4A title in 2007.
“I have been lucky enough to hang in the game long enough to have some chances at the big show,” he said, “It is the reason why I still play games for a living. I want my guys to feel that atmosphere because it is one they will never forget.”
TMP (16-6, No. 5 seed) will play Wichita-Trinity (19-3, No. 4 seed) at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday at Hartman Arena in Park City. TMP finished the season ranked No. 6 in Class 4A Division II final poll, Wichita Trinity finished No. 4.