Bulldogs finally bag date at state
A long dry spell came to an end Saturday night when the Baldwin High School Bulldogs won the Burlington Class 4A Sub-State championship to become the first BHS boys team since 1981 to go to state.
The Bulldogs did it by running past the Santa Fe Trail Chargers 73-62 in the sub-state finals. Next up is the Class 4A State Tournament in Salina Thursday through Saturday.
"It's a good way to continue the season," said coach Bobby Taul. "There are only eight teams still playing. You've got to give the kids credit they did what they had to do.
"I told them after the game they've got a ticket into state and they don't have to pay for it," said Taul. "They've got something special and they can go as far as they want to go."
The Bulldogs proved that in sub-state play they wanted to go farther. After an easy 62-37 win over Anderson County at home in the sub-state opener last Tuesday, BHS followed that up with a 55-40 win over Louisburg Friday in the semi-finals. Then it was the finals, somewhere a Baldwin High boys team hadn't been for quite awhile.
They responded big time.
Offense, defense and probably most important free throw shooting all fell together for the Bulldogs in the finale. SFT put up a gallant fight, but BHS led from start to finish.
"I told them it was whoever put three good games together would get to go state and we did that," he said. "I told them before we played Santa Fe Trail if we handled their pressure and hit free throws, we'd win. In the Louisburg game and the Trail game, we shot free throws better than we had all year."
Against Louisburg, BHS hit 20 of 30 free throws and against SFT, 19 of 29. That's better than during the year, but the Bulldogs were especially effective in the fourth quarter of both games at clutch time.
But there was plenty besides the free throws to make for the title. BHS jumped out on Trail 6-0 before everyone had settled in their seats. Junior Ben Cosman played in on all three buckets, scoring two and feeding senior Andy Meinen for the other. Junior Heath Knight was another factor in the early onslaught with a variety of inside-outside play and a layup by him gave BHS a 12-5 lead. But, Trail showed it wasn't giving in and the Bulldogs were only up 16-14 at the end of the quarter.
That's also when another key to BHS fortunes showed up. Senior Joe Kivett drilled a 3-pointer to open the second quarter and put the Bulldogs up 19-14. The inside-outside combination by BHS, coupled with timely free-throw shooting, would prove fatal to the Chargers. Of course the Baldwin High defense, did too.
"I was tickled to death with the man defense," said Taul. "As far as playing straight man-to-man for a full ballgame, we really hadn't done that since Christmas. I decided we needed to go man and the kids stepped it up and did it."
With the offense clicking and the defense throwing blanks, BHS built a 31-22 halftime lead. But, again, Trail wasn't done. The Charger's full-court press and 3-point shooting would make it interesting in the second half ... but BHS responded.
SFT cut the lead to 31-26 minutes into the second half. The Bulldogs countered with the inside game of Cosman and Meinen to build it back. Then Kivett hit another 3 with 4:15 left, the inside game kept it up and the free throws started to fall. Sophomore Hugh Murphy canned a pair with 1:50 left, Cosman hit from the inside with just three seconds remaining and the nine-point lead was back at 46-37 entering the final frame.
It wasn't over yet.
An inside bucket by Knight to open the quarter and another Kivett 3-pointer got BHS into a double-digit lead at 51-39 less than a minute into the quarter. A layup by senior Blake Regnier at the 6:51 mark moved that to 53-39, but Trail wasn't done.
The Chargers went on a 3-point tear they had nothing left to do and cut the margin to six points with 4:23 left at 58-52. But, BHS wasn't to be outdone. Knight canned a 3-pointer seconds later to re-establish the nine-point lead at 61-52.
Trail had one last push, hitting another 3 with 2:17 left to pull within 62-57. That's as close as it would get and the Bulldogs salted the victory away from the free throw line.
"In the Louisburg game and the Trail game we shot free throws better than we have all year," said Taul. "When Trail went on the 3-point binge, we answered with free throws. During their comeback, we were either answering with field goals or hitting free throws."
Cosman started the free-throw onslaught by hitting a pair with 2:12 left for a 64-57 lead. BHS free throw shooters Murphy, Knight, Colin Barker and Cosman combined to hit nine of 12 in that stretch. And after one of the misses, BHS rebounded and went after it again. Murphy closed out the run by canning two free throws with 25 seconds left for a 73-57 lead. Trail came up with a pair of meaningless 3s as the game ended.
The Bulldog response down the stretch spoke volumes about the confidence and will to win that this year's team has.
"In the past with the way Trail came at us at the end, we would have folded," he said. "We didn't do that. Every time they hit us with something, we responded. Friday and Saturday we didn't self destruct. We've found how to pound the stake in further. We've learned how to put people away.
"We wanted to send a message we're for real," said Taul.
Everyone contributed, too. Knight led the way with 19 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter. Cosman had 15 points, Kivett 11 and Meinen and Murphy both chipped in with 10.
Another key was the Bulldog's game plan of getting the ball inside which led to foul trouble for SFT. Two of their leading scorers fouled out.
"We wanted to pound the ball inside," he said. "We did it and it got them in foul trouble. Getting (Jeremiah) Rice out of the game was big. Ryan Rice stepped up for them inside and scored, but he fouled out, too."
The team effort and performance in all facets of the game came at a good time. Taul hopes that continues and thinks it will.
"Everything has come around," he said. "I told them I wanted them to peak in February and I still don't think they've peaked. The kids are feeling confident about what they can do and that's what we need. We need to string three more games together for another title."