Bulldogs fizzle in BIT finals
With the first Baldwin Invitational Tournament crown in nine years within their grasp, the Baldwin High School Bulldogs played five of their best quarters of basketball this season.
Four of those came in a 69-41 blowout of Santa Fe Trail in the tourney semifinals Friday night. The fifth came in the opener of the championship game Saturday against Ottawa and resulted in a 17-5 explosion that eventually turned into a 17-8 first-quarter lead.
However, it was all down hill from there.
"The other three quarters were pretty bad," said coach Bobby Taul. "We've just really played well in the first quarter the last couple of games, but you've got to finish."
BHS saw its lead dwindle to just three, 28-25, at halftime. Ottawa continued its onslaught in the third frame, turning Bulldog turnovers into buckets and took a 29-28 lead less than three minutes into the second half. The Cyclones never trailed again and went on to a 59-50 victory after holding off a late BHS rally.
"The second half was bad," said Taul. "We took five shots in the third quarter. That's all. Defensively they disrupted what we wanted to do. We got tentative about taking the ball to the basket.
"We were playing scared and I haven't seen us play like that since the first Gardner game," he said. "Hopefully, we learned from that."
Only a week ago, BHS had gained revenge from that "first Gardner game," when BHS was beaten by 22 points. Last week, the Bulldogs beat Gardner by 10 points for a 32-point turnaround and a momentum builder heading into tournament play.
Ottawa, however, followed the same script. BHS blasted the Cyclones 69-53 at their place just before Christmas. Ottawa bounced back and had a 13-point lead in the BIT finals before BHS's late rush whittled it to the final nine.
But, in the end, it was dead-eye accuracy by Ottawa from the free throw line that made the difference. The Cyclones hit 10 of 12 free throws in the final 2:29 of the game to hold BHS off.
"Ottawa has made a living shooting free throws at the end of games here recently," said Taul. "It was the same thing Saturday. They're hitting the big free throws down the stretch."
Ottawa's charity line heroics thwarted those offered up by the Bulldogs. After the Cyclones went up 53-40 with four straight free throws with just 1:36 left, BHS went on a tear.
Senior guard Tony Zuzzio hit back-to-back 3-pointers in a span of 21 seconds to cut it to 53-46. Then, after another Bulldog steal, senior swingman Heath Knight's layup cut it to five at 53-48 with 51 seconds left. That's as close as it got as Ottawa salted it away at the line.
"In the fourth quarter, we played better," Taul said. "Heath stepped up and wanted the ball. Tony spotted up for the 3s. We showed some stuff in the last four minutes that looked good."
Knight ended up with 19 points, eight of which came in the last quarter. Ben Cosman chipped in with 11 points as BHS fell to 7-4. But, Taul sees more important games down the road.
"It would have been nice to win the BIT, but winning sub-state is something that would be much nicer. That gives us something to shoot for," he said. "There are a lot of games left to play before we get there.
"Ottawa has never won (the BIT) before, we beat them already, so they had a lot to play for," Taul said. "In a way, it could be the best thing to happen for us. We definitely may play Ottawa again (in sub-state). It's hard to beat a team three times. It will be a rubber game when it counts. It might have been the best thing for us."
In Friday's semifinal game, the Bulldogs were never challenged. They raced to a 20-4 lead in the first quarter against Santa Fe Trail before settling at 22-9. At halftime, BHS was up 42-27 and blew the game wide open with a 27-14 advantage in the second half.
Knight had 20 points in that one, followed by Cosman with 12 and Zuzzio with 11. Knight and Luke Tutschulte were named to the all-tournament team, along with: Ottawa's Eric Hull, Adam Spratt and Nathan Steward; Wellsville's Josh Flett and Derek Wright; Santa Fe Trail's Brian Mott; and Augusta's Wes Little and Matt Sims.
BHS was off Tuesday and doesn't play again until Friday at Wellsville.
"We have a tough league game Friday against Wellsville," said Taul. "They're going to come after us like a swarm of bees. They have Josh Flett who is 6-6 and a bunch of little guys.
"Wellsville beat Paola (47-46) in the Olathe South Tournament and Paola beat us by two," he said. "We can't go into the Wellsville game and over look them."