Bulldog boys find pair of surprises
There were a couple of surprises Friday night as the Baldwin High School Bulldogs won their Winter Sports Festival. The first was a very good Prairie View team. The second was sizzling hot free throw shooting by BHS.
A combination of both brought about the Bulldog's 66-58 victory. Prairie View has long been know as a football and wrestling power, but never as much of a threat on the basketball floor. This year's team entered the game with a 10-4 record, but were 0-4 in the Frontie League. The Buffaloes showed they were for real, leading for most of the first half and never giving up.
"I know in the past three years we've pretty well done whatever we wanted to with them," said coach Bobby Taul of Prairie View. "I think it shocked everybody. They were solid on both ends of the floor. They're man defense, especially inside, was very good."
The second part of the equation may be even more amazing. BHS shot 21 of 25 (84 percent) from the free throw line, 16 of 17 (94 percent) in the fourth quarter and probably most important 11 of 12 in the last 1:30 of the game which sealed the eight-point win. For the season, the Bulldogs had been hitting 59 percent from the line.
"We were stepping up and hitting those," said Taul. "If we hadn't been hitting those, who knows what might have happened. You've got to give the kids credit. They stepped up and hit them. I think it gave everyone else confidence. It's kind of contagious. Also, I think the people they were fouling are the people we probably want going to the line."
But, possibly the most important display Friday was one BHS hadn't showed all season the ability to comeback. Prairie View shocked the Bulldogs and their fans with a combination of strong inside play and 3-point shooting to jump to a 19-9 first-quarter lead.
BHS whittled that down to 19-14 at the end of the quarter, but the Buffaloes cranked in another 3-pointer to open the second frame and re-establish the lead. But, not for long. Behind the strong bench play of 6-foot-4 junior Eric Brown, the Bulldogs started coming back. Brown scored 10 of his season-high 12 points in the second quarter, including a follow shot with 22 seconds left that gave BHS its first lead at 31-30.
"I just kept telling them to keep their heads up and keep whittling it away," said Taul. "Eric Brown came in in that second quarter and just lit it up from the inside.
"We were fortunate enough to go in at half time one up," he said. "Once we got that lead, we never gave it up. I think it showed a different side to us. When you look at us, what we usually do is get that big first-quarter lead and then fall off. This was different. I kept telling them that Prairie View has given us their best shot."
BHS continued that strong inside play in the second half. Seniors Ben Cosman (6-4) and Heath Knight (6-5) scored the first eight points of the third frame and 6-0 junior Eric Black hit a 12-footer as the Bulldogs went up by five. Still, Prairie View wouldn't give in and it took another follow shot by Brown with two seconds left to put BHS up 43-40 at the end of the frame.
The Buffaloes put up a 3-pointer just into the fourth quarter to tie it. Knight answered with a 3-pointer, but Prairie View returned the favor once again. But, from that point on, the Bulldog free throw magic took over. Senior Luke Tutschulte started it by hitting a pair with 5:13 left. Cosman added a layup off a steal and was fouled. He hit the free throw for a three-point play at BHS was back up by five at 51-46.
An eight-footer by Cosman at the 2:39 mark put the Bulldogs up 55-48. It was also the last Bulldog field goal of the night. A minute later, Black started the 11 for 12 streak by hitting a pair of free throws and BHS closed the victory out.
"We didn't want to do anything different in the second half," said Taul. "We wanted to take it in the paint and make them foul us. It shows we can come back. We could have paniced in the first half, we could have quit, but we didn't. That's a good sign.
"We needed to be tested and they gave us a good test on how we'll react to that sort of situation. We responded," he said. "We did what we needed to do to win. We didn't go down and throw up shots trying to get back in it. I talked about getting the old-fashioned three-point play with a bucket, a foul and a free throw and we did it."
Knight had 18 points, Cosman 15 and Brown 12. The victory moved BHS's record to 10-4 overall and 4-1 in league play. However, Baldwin's sub-state continues to get tougher. Iola has only one loss, Ottawa has two and both BHS and Louisburg have four. Prairie View, with five losses, isn't far behind.