WaKEENEY — There was disappointment with the way things ended a year ago for the Plainville High School boys’ basketball team.
The Cardinals were snake-bitten by Ellis in the semifinals of the sub-state tournament on their home floor.
In a sense, Plainville choked.
“We talked about it often, all year,” said Plainville coach Chris Drees. “We talked about we didn’t get to the place where we thought we could get. It was almost like we choked, and we used that term. We weren’t going to sugar-coat it. We didn’t get to where we needed to go. You look at it, and we’ve had some tough losses to some excellent teams. Five of our losses are to 3A teams or higher, and one of them is to the No. 1 ranked team in 2A. We just want to get to the big show, because we think we can put on a show if we get there. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
On Friday night in this year’s Class 2A sub-state semifinal game against St. Francis in WaKeeney, the Cardinals weren’t about to succumb to that same feeling.
And when it came time to put up or shut up, the Cardinals did just that in an entertaining 81-75 victory against the Indians. The win put Plainville (16-6) into Saturday’s title game against Hoxie (20-1), which was an 83-36 winner over Hill City.
“Last year versus Ellis, it sucked,” said sophomore Jared Casey, who scored seven of his 26 points in the fourth quarter. “It was still on my mind that we lost at home, and we shouldn’t have. It still made me mad. We needed to get the win. That’s all that mattered.”
St. Francis (16-6) led early only to see Plainville take a 14-12 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Cardinals pushed the lead to six, the last time at 37-31, in the second quarter.
But senior Tate Busse, one of the state’s best players and most potent scorers, hit three straight 3-pointers from long range to eventually give St. Francis a 40-37 lead at halftime.
“He’s the best guard in western Kansas,” Drees said. “I was told that before the game, and I knew it watching film. But I firmly believe it. He deserves to play at the next level. He’s good. He’s fast, and he’s athletic. He can shoot lights out. He catches double- and triple-teams every single game, and yet he still finds a way to put up 30, 40 points on us or 50 points. I don’t know what he had, but it seems like a lot.”
Busse finished with 38 points, including seven 3-pointers. He had 19 points at halftime, then went off for 14 in the third quarter as the Indians led 58-57 entering the final eight minutes. His final three points of the quarter came after being fouled on a halfcourt attempt at the quarter’s buzzer.
“I knew it was going to be close,“ said Tate Busse, who surpassed the 1,700-point mark for his career in the game. “I figured they would come and run some type of junk defense. That’s what most teams have been doing. I was hoping we would get away with a win, but it was a good game.”
Casey wouldn’t let another sub-state semifinal disappointment happen for Plainville, though. His steal and layup gave the Cardinals a 75-68 advantage just past the halfway mark of the period.
But sophomore Brady Dinkel — who finished with 23 points — answered with back-to-back triples to pull St. Francis within 75-74.
“That’s what Jared Casey does,” Drees said. “He’s a phenomenal basketball player and a phenomenal athlete. He’s got basketball IQ off the charts. For being only a sophomore, that kid just gets it. We made it hard not making some free throws down the stretch, but really our defense came through when it had to come through and got a couple of huge stops in the waning minutes of the game.”
Plainville's defense, which shadowed Busse tightly the entire game, forced late turnovers and the Cardinals hit just enough free throws to hang on.
“Just the last three weeks for whatever reason — he’s young for his class, only 17 still and will graduate at about that — he was just kicking in,” said St. Francis coach Cory Busse said about his son, Tate. “He’s just finally getting aggressive enough to just go. His last seven games, he’s averaging around 36 points. And he’s doubled every single game, and they still can’t stop him. And he’s pulling rebounds, dishing it and getting defensive stops. He was tired, though. He was cramping bad in the fourth quarter. … But they we making him run a mile to just get the ball.”
That defense also forced the ball out of Busse’s hands in the waning seconds as he was triple-teamed at times.
“It’s been tough,” Tate Busse said. “Against Sharon, they double-teamed me the entire game. That’s what they were kind of doing there.”
“If you would have told me it would have been a two-possession game the last few minutes, I would have taken that,” Cory Busse said. “That’s what we were going for, and that’s what we had. We just made a few more mistakes than we should have late. I wish we wouldn’t have done that, but that’s the way it goes.”
Casey’s 26 points were matched by senior teammate Chase Cellmer, who hit six 3-pointers of his own and had 15 points by halftime.
“He’s been on a roll for about a week and a half now,” Drees said about Cellmer. “For the last 10 games, he’s been on a roll extremely well. He’s a senior, and he needs to be able to do that.”
Plainville also got 16 points from junior Tanner Copeland, and senior Dalton Straub added 11 for St. Francis — a Class 1A Division I state qualifier last year before moving up in classification this year.
“I was hoping it wouldn’t be quite as battle-tested as it was,” Drees said. “We just couldn’t handle prosperity very well. Every time we’d get a five- or six-point lead, we’d just serve it right back up. It’s not like we didn’t know who was going to score. Postseason basketball is about survival and advancement, and we were able to do that.”
Hoxie 83, Hill City 36
The goal for Hoxie was to make a statement early.
That mission got accomplished in the first few minutes, and the Indians rolled to an easy victory that featured a running clock in the final quarter.
Hoxie (20-1) led 16-3 after the first quarter and 41-9 at the break.
“The loss (to Colby) a week ago really sparked us, put us on a new level,” said senior Easton Slipke, who led all scorers with 26 points. “We had the best practices this week that we’ve ever had. I think this is finally our statement that we wanted to make for a while.”
The game never was in doubt against Hill City (10-13). The Indians dominated the contest defensively, leading to easy baskets in transition.
“We want to impose our will,” said Hoxie coach Jake Moss. “All these guys talk about getting back to Manhattan and unfinished business. We have five seniors on the team that have had a little taste of it and have been there before, and they want it again. You could tell this week they’ve been locked in and want it a little more than they have been.”
The Indians outscored Hill City each quarter, including a 19-12 advantage in the final period with numerous bench players in the game.
“We came out running and gunning, and it was nice to get into a groove,” Slipke said. “We missed a lot of bunnies, but we were attacking the basket. I think we only made six 3s.”
Hoxie also got 19 points from junior Sean Robben, including 10 in the second half.
Junior Asa Brandyberry was the only Ringneck to score in double figures with 14. No other player scored more than seven, while 10 different Hoxie players scored.
“I think when we look back at the end of the year, that one loss is going to help us,” Moss said. “It woke some guys up. We realized we couldn’t just go through the motions in practice every single day. Now, they have that hunger to play again, and that showed tonight.”