By CONOR NICHOLL
EMPORIA – Hoxie High School senior guard Kade Spresser has played in three state tournaments, is expected to collect his third all-state honor this winter and has scored more than 1,300 career points.
On Friday, Spresser delivered the best game of his sterling resume in a 48-43 victory against Blue Rapids-Valley Heights in the Class 1A Division I semifinals at White Auditorium.
Hoxie’s second and third leading scorers, senior guard Chase Kennedy and junior guard Connor Katt, produced little offense. Kennedy finished 1 of 17 for three points, while Katt shot 1 of 4 for three points.
But Spresser scored 30 points (10 of 16 shooting) with seven rebounds and four assists.
“I kind of had the feel for the game,” Spresser said. “I just tried to be as efficient as possible. Score when we needed to score – not take bad shots, but good shots, and try to play good defense.”
Spresser tallied 10 points in the first quarter as the Indians never trailed and built a 14-4 lead after the first eight minutes.
“We needed him more tonight that any other because our second and third-leading scorers were off,” Hoxie coach Aaron Dardis said. “The ball wasn’t dropping for them, so Kade picked up the load, and I don’t know if we could have done it without him.”
Late, Spresser continually delivered big baskets and key free throws (8 of 8 from the line) and helped the Indians reach the first boys’ basketball game in school annals.
“The players in the gym, in the weight room, all the dedication,” Dardis said. “There is a whole lot of great teams that never get this opportunity, so we are very fortunate and very proud to be in this position.”
Hoxie, in its 11th trip to state, finished third two years ago and lost in the first round last season. Now, the No. 2 seeded Indians (24-1) will play top-seeded Melvern-MDCV (25-0) in the title Saturday. Game time is 6:15 p.m.
Dardis (152-70 at Hoxie) has built the Indian program into an elite team that is 64-10 in the last three years.
“We have had a good line of leaders on our team,” Dardis, in his 10th year, said. “I think back (assistant) coach (Jake) Moss, he played for me, way back when. Each year, we have just kind of had great leaders that have kind of kept a good culture on our team. You do that long enough, and you are going to get the results on the court.”
The Indian girls will also play in their fourth straight championship contest and will look for their third consecutive title.
“It’s pretty awesome, I think, especially for a small town like Hoxie,” Spresser said.
At halftime, Spresser had outscored Valley Heights himself, 16-15. Hoxie scored 22 as a team. Valley Heights had a variety of players on Spresser throughout the game, including a quicker player who matched Spresser’s 6-foot-2 frame, and a taller player.
“He is tough,” Valley Heights coach Adam Plummer said. “He has got about everything. He can shoot the 3. He can take you off the dribble. He is strong with it, keeps the ball low on the dribble. He has got a jump shot, spin move.”
Katt, who had three fouls at the 6 minute, 40 second mark of the third quarter, made his lone field goal, a trey, to open the second half. At one point, Katt told Dardis, “I can’t get open” against Valley Heights’ man-to-man defense.
“What makes Valley Heights’ man defense so tough is they are all 6-foot-3 and really athletic,” Dardis said. “I think that affected Chase and Connor, because those guys are quick, but (Valley Heights) has the size advantage, and it was tough to get shots off on them.”
Valley Heights, led by 13 points by junior Elijah Smith, closed to 33-27 after three quarters.
“If you would have told me, ‘Low 40s in the fourth quarter,’ which was our goal, ‘I would say, ‘We will take that,’ ” Plummer said. “Because we should be able to score in the 50s and come out of here with a win.”
With three minutes left, Kennedy, a veteran leader, had yet to score. Still, he found senior Mitchel Johnson for a mid-range jumper to push Hoxie’s lead to 41-35. Then, he scored off a mid-range shot from a Spresser pass for a 43-37 lead at the 2:12 mark.
Valley Heights wanted to start to foul around the 1:45 mark, but had some miscommunication. Hoxie ran off around 40 seconds. Spresser and Kennedy sealed the win with free throws.
“I know he was frustrated, but he didn’t let it get to him,” Dardis said. “He kept his composure. He kept competing. He did what he had control over – defense and taking care of the ball. Like we always say, ‘You may miss however many shots, but you’ve got to know the next one is going in.’ In his case, it did – at the end of the game, when it was really important.”
Hoxie 48, Blue Rapids-Valley Heights 43
Valley Heights (22-3)
Bargdill 1-7 0-0 2, G.Woodyard 3-5 12- 7, Trimble 2-7 3-5 8, Elijah Smith 6-15 0-0 13, Charles Musil 5-7 1-2 11, B. Woodyard 1-1 0-0 2, Blaske 0-3 0-0 0, Manley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals – 18-45 5-9 43.
Katt 1-4 0-2 3, Kade Spresser 10-16 8-8 30, Kennedy 1-17 1-2 3, Smith 3-7 0-0 6, Johnson 2-3 0-0 4, Heim 0-3 0-0 0, Ewers 0-0 0-0 0, Kaus 1-1 0-1 2. Totals – 18-51 9-13 48.
Valley Heights 4 11 12 16- 43
Hoxie 14 8 11 15 – 48
3-point goals – Valley Heights 2-15 (Bargdill 0-6, Woodyard 0-1, Trimble 1-2, Smith 1-4); Hoxie 3-7 (Katt 1-1, Spresser 2-3, Kennedy 0-3). Technical fouls – none. Fouled out – none.
Rebounds – Valley Heights 32 (Woodyard 6); Hoxie 29 (Spresser 7). Turnovers – Valley Heights 8, Hoxie 4.