Hays High, TMP boys set for state tournament

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News
Hays High players and fans celebrate late in the Indians' 61-48 win over Salina South in the sub-state final.
The TMP-Marian boys basketball team poses with its sub-state championship plaque after defeating Minneapolis 68-51 on Saturday in Norton.

For the first time since 2000, the Hays High and Thomas More Prep-Marian boys basketball teams have both punched their tickets to the state tournament in the same season. 

Hays High captured a Class 5A sub-state title with a 61-48 win over Salina South on Saturday at Hays High, while TMP took a 68-51 win over Minneapolis in Saturday's Class 3A sub-state final in Norton. 

Hays High (22-0) will play host to Topeka West (19-2) at 6 p.m. in Tuesday's quarterfinal. TMP (20-4) will be on the road Tuesday at Hugoton (21-2), with tip-off also set for 6 p.m.

Both Hays High coach Alex Hutchins and TMP coach Bill Meagher said their respective teams are cherishing the opportunity to return to state, perhaps even more so this year considering the uncertainty caused by the pandemic at the beginning of the season. 

"There were moments during pre-game (Saturday) and the national anthem where I almost got emotional soaking up what was in front of us," Hutchins said, "because of the way last year ended and all of the uncertainty we dealt with before this season and even early in the season. This is an awesome experience, and we are going to soak up and enjoy every moment of it."

“It’s such a blessing to even be playing this year," Meagher said. "For the coaching staff, it’s a blessing to be a part of this program. It’s definitely tradition-rich, and it’s an honor to be a part of that.”

The Indians will take another crack at a state title after seeing last's year bid end abruptly. Hays reached the Class 5A semifinals with a win over Topeka Highland Park but the final two days of the tournament were canceled because of COVID-19 concerns. 

"Huge motivation, just the feeling of getting the whole rug pulled out from under you while you have a chance to win the whole dang thing," Hays senior forward Dalyn Schwarz said. "It was just a whole driving factor from the summer, to early in the season, to now."

The Monarchs have made state in two out of three years under Meagher. They took fourth place in 2019. 

“Some of these guys played in that (tournament) a couple years ago," Meagher said. "It’s great for them to get back.”

The Indians will be hoping to utilize their home court advantage against Topeka West, which reached the quarterfinal with a 55-52 win over Topeka Seaman. The winner will advance to the Class 5A semis at Emporia State's White Auditorium. 

"We love it here, man," Schwarz said. "We had a great crowd out here today. It definitely helps bring the energy. We feed off it."

The Monarchs will be tasked with facing Hugoton on the Eagles' home court. This year state quarterfinal games are being hosted by the team with the higher winning percentage instead of all four quarterfinal games being played at one site. The TMP-Hugoton winner will advance to the 3A semifinals at Hutchinson Sports Arena. 

“Whatever adversity we face we’re going to deal with," Meagher said. "I would say move it back to a neutral site somewhere. I think a first-round state (game), having a disadvantage or a home advantage, is not ideal. We’ll deal with whatever we have to deal with to keep playing this year. I’m hopeful we return to a neutral site next year.”

TMP was the last team to beat Hugoton, defeating the Eagles 62-59 at the Hays City Shoot-Out in the second game of the season. Hugoton has since won 21 straight.

“We played them once, but that really wasn’t a fair game," Meagher said. "They had just come off a bunch of COVID stuff.

“This will be an entirely different game. … I do know we are the last team they lost to. They got healthy after COVID and turned it on. It will be an entirely different team than we saw at the Shoot-Out.”