Coach Pete Logan
One night after a tough loss in a physical, chippy game against Mill Valley, the Gardner-Edgerton boys’ basketball team rebounded emphatically by putting away Kansas 6A Top 10-ranked Olathe South, 67-54, Friday night at Gardner-Edgerton High School Gymnasium.
The previous evening, the Trailblazers dropped a 74-67 home decision to Mill Valley in a game that was grueling both physically and emotionally. Having just 24 hours to recover and be ready for the highly-ranked Falcons of Olathe South seemed like an extremely difficult challenge, yet it was one that the GEHS squad met with enthusiasm.
“I’m extraordinarily proud of how hard the kids played two nights in a row,” said Gardner-Edgerton head coach Zach White after Friday night’s contest. “To have just a dogfight the night before, and then to come out tonight and beat a very high-quality opponent just speaks to the competitive nature of these kids. We’re not the tallest guys. We’re not the most athletic guys, but those kids play their butts off. They compete, and it’s always fun to watch. Like I told them — if they’ll defend, take care of the ball, and rebound, we’re going to be in every game.”
The opening of the game did not seem to hint at positive results for the Trailblazers, as the Falcons jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead. However, patience on both offense and defense paid off for Gardner-Edgerton, as they responded with an 8-2 run that was capped off when GEHS senior point guard Kellen Kueser sank a 3-point bucket from the right side to make the score 8-4, Blazers. The Falcons responded with a 7-2 run of their own, but Blazer junior shooting guard Jake McClure put the kibosh on that when he drained his own right side trey just before the buzzer to give the home squad a 13-11 lead after one quarter.
South snatched the lead back to begin the 2nd quarter when junior forward Corbin Dozier converted a left corner 3, making the score 14-13, Falcons. However, McClure answered right back with another right-sided 3-pointer to give GEHS a 16-14 lead and force a South timeout, as they tried to come up with an answer for the Blazer shooter. The lead grew to 18-14 after Gardner-Edgerton senior post Ivan Jalabomy converted both ends of a 1+1, but back-to-back threes from the Falcons reinstalled the visitors in the lead at 20-18. After the lead became 22-18, Kueser drove the lane and converted a circus-trick layup, was fouled, and sank the free throw for a traditional three-point play to make the score 22-21. Minutes later, Jalabomy completed his own traditional three-point play to tie the score at 24-24. Then, McClure repeated his end-of-quarter heroics by sinking a bucket right before the end of the quarter, giving GEHS a 26-24 halftime lead.
When the 3rd quarter started, Trailblazer junior 2-guard Tyler Butash extended that 2-point halftime lead to 5 when he drained a 3 from the left side to make the score 29-24. Minutes later, McClure extended the lead to 7 at 35-28 when he nailed a top-of-the-key trey, which was soon to be followed by another Butash 3-pointer — this one from the right corner off an assist from McClure, making the score 40-32. Sophomore shooting guard Malaki Taylor extended the lead to 11 late in the period when he nailed a three from the left side off a Kueser dime, making the score 47-36, Blazers. A late bucket by the Falcons cut the visitors’ deficit to 9 just before the end of the quarter.
The first two buckets of the 4th quarter belonged to South, making the score 47-42 Blazers, with 5 minutes remaining in regulation. Once again, McClure stepped up, flushing a three from the left side that moved the margin back up to 8 at 50-42. With about 3 minutes left in the contest and the Blazers leading 52-46, McClure drained one more trey — this one from the right side off a kick-out assist from Kueser, giving the Blazers a 9-point edge at 55-46. With two minutes left, a layup by South senior shooting guard Bryce Dickerson pulled the Falcons to within 4 at 55-51. However, the Trailblazers were nearly perfect from the free throw line down the stretch, and GEHS senior point guard Ethan Reynolds closed out the game with a breakaway layup and a pair of free throws to make the final score 67-54, Blazers.
After the game, White spoke about his team’s stellar night from the charity stripe.
“We practice free throws,” White said, “but free throws are about staying focused and doing what you’re supposed to do. You can’t think too much about the moment, because — if you think too much about the moment — you’re thinking about the shot instead of what you’re supposed to do. Really, the free throw shooting comes down to the kids being focused and not being overcome by the moment.”
Against the Falcons, McClure led the Blazers in points with 21 to go with his 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Kueser collected 14 points, 2 boards, and a team-high 5 assists, while Jalabomy narrowly missed a double-double with 10 points, 9 boards, 2 assists, and 2 deflections. Reynolds also had 10 points while dishing out 2 assists, while Butash had 6 points, 2 rebounds, and a team-high 3 steals. Taylor added 5 points for the Trailblazers, who went 22-for-27 from the free throw line for an 81.5% success rate.
The win improves the Blazers’ record to 6-10 on the season.