Bulldogs make history with state tournament finish
For a day, they were destiny's darlings. When they returned home Saturday, they'd done something no other Baldwin High School boys' basketball team had ever done.
What a ride last week was for the BHS Bulldogs, who finished third in the Class 4A State Tournament in Salina. It was the best finish ever in the tourney for Baldwin High and it came despite the Bulldogs being the eighth-seeded team.
The low seed didn't matter. The Bulldogs and their following fans, band, cheerleaders, pommers, etc. woke up the state to remember Baldwin. Get used to the name.
"Basically what we did being an unknown and ending up third is remarkable," said Bobby Taul, head coach of the BHS boys. "To knock off the No. 1 seed and the No. 3 seed really says something. We were an unknown commodity, but we showed we belong. I think the kids realize that. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We showed we belong as much as anyone.
"The kids on the basketball floor get the attention, but it's for the school. It's for the community," said Taul.
And what a showing it was. BHS opened the tourney Thursday by firing the shot heard round the state when the Bulldogs dumped No. 1-seeded Jefferson County West, the odds-on favorite to win the tournament. They did it in convincing fashion, too, 68-57. That's when they became destiny's darlings, fulfilling that magical "March Madness" tag that basketball fans love.
"You would have to say that was our biggest win in the three years I've been here," said Taul. "It wasn't a fluke. We went out and did what we needed to do to win. They didn't.
"Jeff West was supposed to win it all," he said. "That gave us the respect our program has to have. That was a big step in getting the recognition state wide."
But, it was a roller coaster ride for the Bulldogs.
The celebration after the win was wild. The fans went crazy. The tears flowed. The team was pumped. Suddenly, thoughts went from going to state, to winning state.
The good crowd that was on hand for the opener mostly made the trip home to Baldwin. They brought back reinforcements. Friday's second-round crowd put a wave of purple in the stands at the Bicentennial Center. Electricity filled the air.
When Baldwin's team was introduced as the "Builders," a collective groan filled the arena. It would be a sign. BHS lost the game to Labette County, 73-50
As high as the roller coaster went Thursday with the win over No. 1-seed Jeff West, it plummeted with the loss. But, BHS responded Saturday to send the coaster cars back upwards. The Bulldogs bounced Scott City 64-56, but it really wasn't that close.
Again, the Bulldogs spirits soared. Here was a team that had been at the bottom of the seeding chart and had risen to the top. The third-place plaque and the medals to go with it were something a Baldwin High boys team had never won.
There were seven players that really made it happen: seniors Andy Meinen, Joe Kivett, Colin Barker and Blake Regnier; two key juniors, Ben Cosman and Heath Knight; and the lone sophomore, Hugh Murphy. They saw the vast majority of the playing time throughout the tournament.
But it was more than just the boys on the floor that brought Baldwin to the attention of the Class 4A division. The BHS cheerleaders dazzled, pommers entertained, the band played and played some more and the purple-donned fans raised the roof.
"The support we had was tremendous," said Taul. "The kids in the cheering section did well. The cheerleaders, the pommers, the band, all of them were driving back and forth every day. Our kids came through and so did the community."
Friday's crowd was especially big, leaving everyone to ponder who was still home.
"I was wondering who was holding the store down," said Stan Krysztof, mayor of Baldwin City who was also decked out in purple in Salina. "Was there anyone left in Baldwin? That was all right. It's quite a show of appreciation when you get that many people going to something like that on a Friday afternoon.
"The city is very proud of the Baldwin Bulldog boys' basketball team," said Krysztof. "The kids and the school district can be mighty proud. Considering all it takes to get there, it was a great effort. I foresee the potential for more trips there down the road, too. It's a big boost from the past years. I think Mr. Taul has turned the program around."
The mayor isn't the only one talking about a return to state next year.
"With all the sophomores and juniors we have, we'll be back," said Taul. "We took four seniors out there and 10 underclassmen. They got the experience. It's a tremendous atmosphere and makes them want to go back.
"I kept telling them that this is the fun part of the year," he said. "They didn't know because they'd never been there. Now they know what it's about. Hopefully it will get the junior high and grade school kids started thinking about Baldwin High basketball."
While the team, fans and everyone else have been savoring the finish, there are still adjustments to be made.
"To tell you the truth, it hasn't sunk in," said Barker, the Bulldog's senior point guard in the BHS parking lot Monday. "It's unbelievable that we went as far as we did. State is an unbelievable experience. I hope next year they can carry it on."