During their wild postseason run, the Ness City Eagles often found themselves in wire-to-wire games, coming through with clutch play after clutch play to earn their way into the Class 2A state title game.
By comparison, Saturday’s title game was almost a no-doubter.
In their best game of the tournament, the Eagles had the championship all but locked up in the last 2 minutes, putting away Hutchinson-Trinity to claim Ness City’s first boys’ state basketball title in school history with a convincing 67-55 victory at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
“Under these circumstances, playing for a state championship, the kids sold out and gave it their all,” Ness City coach Brandt Rogers said. “I told them the shots aren’t always going to fall, but we can play defense and we can play defense with the best of them.
“Holding a team like that in Trinity to 55 and scoring 67 on them, that’s a pretty big (feat).”
Every Eagle who played significant minutes took turns coming through with big moments as Ness City capped a 22-4 season.
“The kids stepped up when we needed them and we peaked at the right time,” Rogers said.
Hutch-Trinity focused its efforts on containing Ness City standout John Pfannenstiel, but the senior point guard deferred to the Eagles’ other weapons.
Andres Rios led the Eagles with 20 points on 8 of 11 shooting and was joined in double figures by Easton Seib (16), Landon Reinhardt (11) and Angel Guzman (10).
“Half of it is just trusting my teammates,” Pfannenstiel said. “They’re great guys and they’ve worked their tails off all year and the past few summers that we’ve been playing. I’m really proud of them for stepping up tonight.”
Seib hit some of the biggest shots of the game, finishing 5 of 6 from the field and 3 of 4 from 3-point range.
“We talked about on the bus ride up that somebody was going to be left open, because they were going to be dedicated to shutting down John,” Rogers said. “… I told Easton if he’s got the open shot, he’s got to take it or he’s not playing. He took the open shot. And I’ll put my money on him.”
Ness City used an efficient first quarter to take an 18-15 lead at the end of the first frame and used a late second-quarter surge to take a 36-27 lead into the break.
Trinity was within four with 4:18 left in the game but Seib hit a 3-pointer and Guzman added a bucket to push the lead to nine. Ness City never let the Celtics get closer than seven the rest of the way.
“Defensively we were solid,” Pfannenstiel said. “We hit shots when we needed to. We trusted each other as a team. It’s amazing to bring it back to Ness City.”
The path to the title included an overtime win over Seabury, courtesy of buzzer-beaters from Seib and Pfannenstiel, and a five-point win over Inman in the semifinal.
“At the beginning of the season, (a state title) was a goal and once we beat Seabury, I think it was a reality that we could do it,” Pfannenstiel said. “We just had to hang on to that momentum.”
With the 2A tournament nearby in Hays, the stars seemed to align for Ness City, which had a strong fan turnout for all three tournament games.
“The look on the kids’ faces when they found out it was in Hays was unreal,” Rogers said. “They knew we had a chance to have a monster crowd. All three nights, it was huge, but tonight it was a whole half of Gross Memorial. It was incredible. There had to be nobody left at home, so I don’t know who’s guarding the town.”
Pfannenstiel said it will be a while before the moment sinks in for him.
“I don’t think it will for a long time,” he said. “It means the most to just bring it back to the people of Ness City, because I love that community with all my heart. It’s amazing.”
Trinity ended the year 22-4. Lucas Hammeke led the Celtics with 17 while Fort Hays State signee Kaleb Hammeke added 13.