The Plainville boys’ basketball program has cherished its past experiences of playing state tournament games at Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum, but the Cardinals certainly aren’t going to complain about the change of venue for the Class 2A state tournament this year.
Plainville will happily trade the mystique of playing in an NCAA Division I arena for the chance to play 25 miles from home at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Cardinals’ coach Chris Drees said the Cardinals were immediately intrigued by the prospect of playing the state tournament in Hays when the state sites were announced last summer. Plainville made it a reality last week, winning its sub-state last week in Leoti.
The eighth-seeded Cardinals (17-6) will open the tournament against top-seeded Inman (20-2) at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“We love playing at Bramlage. We feel like that’s one of the best venues to play a state basketball tournament,” Drees said. “But when we found out (the 2A tournament) was in Hays, we were like: Oh, this could be really fun. It can maybe give us some advantage, fans-wise. Plainville does a great job of supporting their teams. I’m hoping that it will be great for our kids. We were excited when we found out it was here.”
The Cardinals will take a seven-game win streak into the tournament. They closed the regular-season with a road win over 3A qualifier Thomas More Prep-Marian before beating Smith Center, Hoxie and Ellis on their way to the sub-state title.
“The back half of our schedule is kind of loaded, and we like to do that on purpose,” Drees said. “We know we have to be playing well at this time of the year, so it’s better if we don’t have cupcakes at the end of the season.
“By the way we were seeded in our sub-state, we knew we were going to have to play three good games in order to get to the state tournament, and I think we did that. We definitely are peaking right now.”
The Cardinals pulled out a thriller in the sub-state semifinal, upending top-seeded Hoxie 76-73.
“Number one, we rebounded the ball well,” Drees said. “I don’t have a very big team. We knew going up against 6-9 and 6-8, that we were going to have to rebound, and I think we did that. Anders Dewey had 10 boards by himself as a freshman. That was huge.
“Then we just kind of executed down the stretch. We had a lead and we gave it up, kind of fought back and got the lead again. My kids don’t really have a panic button. We kind of feel like in close games, we’re going to win. I don’t know why, but I guess that’s just the way they’re wired.”
Plainville followed it up with a 69-56 win over Ellis, avenging an earlier 19-point home loss to the Railers.
“We got embarrassed by them about a month ago,” Drees said. “We didn’t feel like we gave them our best effort first time we played them, so it was easy for my kids to be focused. Whether we won or lost, we were going to play with a lot more effort in that game. I really thought we did a good job of getting out and running in the second half.
“In the third quarter, we outscored them 26-8. We started running and we were able to get some easy baskets. We did a really good job defensively on them, took away some of their better players and better sets and I think it kind of frustrated them a little bit.”
Junior Jared Casey and senior Tanner Copeland have been the catalysts for the Cardinals. Casey averages 21.3 points while Copeland adds 17.6 a game.
“They play off each other so well,” Drees said. “They know what the program is about and what I expect. They’re very good leaders and that’s probably why we don’t panic, because in about every game we play, I feel like I have the best two players on the floor.”
Drees also credited the progression of the Cardinals’ other three starters — Dewey and sophomores Eli Hays and Clay Pelton.
“The other three starters have really found their role and their niche,” Drees said. “Anders Dewey held (Ellis standout) Zach Eck to 13 points the other night. … Eli Hays is (6-foot 3, 150 pounds) and he’s my five man; he’s stepped up and made a couple big shots. He’s able to rebound and defend fairly well. Clay Pelton has been the recipient of Jared and Tanner’s pressure defense; they just got to find him and he’s usually wide open. He’s been shooting the ball really well and that’s big for us, too.”
Inman punched its ticket to state with a 62-53 overtime victory over Sacred Heart in the sub-state finals. The Teutons are led by 6-foot-8 senior forward Mason Thiessen, an Emporia State signee, and senior guard Payton Froese.
“Obviously if you’re the No. 1 seed at the state tournament, you’re good,” Drees said of the Teutons. “Froese and Thiessen are obviously their two best players and then they have some really good role, complementary kids and some really athletic kids around them. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
With a win, Plainville would play the winner of Ness City (19-4) and Lawrence-Bishop Seabury (16-4) in the semifinals on Friday. On the other side of the bracket, Hutchinson-Trinity (20-3) meets Eskridge-Mission Valley (17-5) and Pittsburg-St Mary’s Colgan (19-3) will take on McLouth (18-5).