State berth falls one shot away for BHS boys
TONGANOXIE -- An upset victory over the No. 1 seed. A Class 4A sub-state championship. A trip to Salina.
All of these came down to a last-second final three-pointer that would have granted all three wishes.
The shot fell short and left the Baldwin High School boys' basketball team (17-6) two points away from those goals as it lost to Kansas City Piper 41-39 here Saturday night in the sub-state finals.
"The reality of sports can be cruel," coach Eric Toot said. "You get a group of kids that work that hard and want to win as much as they want to win, it's unfortunate that is has to end."
Trailing 41-39 with 6 seconds left on the clock, Baldwin had to travel the length of the court for a shot to either tie or win the game. Junior Dustin Schiller pushed the ball up court and found senior Blake Wieden on the wing.
Wieden pump faked to shake off two defenders. He then threw up a three-pointer that fell short of the basket. The buzzer sounded, ending the Bulldogs' season.
"We knew it would be a close game, but I don't think anybody thought it would be that close," Wieden said. "It was a great game and something we will remember for a long time."
Baldwin trailed 38-32 until junior Drew Berg sank a three-pointer with 58 seconds left. Piper sank two free throws while BHS senior Sam Scott sank one of his two with 42.9 seconds remaining.
Wieden then drilled a long-range shot with 25 ticks left in the game, closing Piper's lead to 40-39. The Pirates then missed both free throws but grabbed their own rebound. They only made one free throw, giving Baldwin a chance with 6 seconds remaining.
"I knew it would be tough to go the length of the court in six seconds with the type of athletes they have," Toot said. "I knew we would need a little bit of luck to get off a good shot. I think Blake did everything he could to get a good look at the basket, but that's asking a lot to go full court in six seconds and get a good shot."
The Bulldogs were behind for much of the contest, but never trailed by more than seven points. Piper led 23-18 at halftime but increased that lead to seven shortly after the break.
Baldwin hung close with points from senior Andrew Madl and Scott. BHS closed the Piper lead to 30-27 before the Pirates sank two free throws before the third quarter ended.
BHS continued to battle in the fourth quarter as it turned up its defensive pressure. Baldwin also got to the free throw line more in the final period, but only made 13 of 21 foul shots for the game.
"We had some kids really step up and hit some shots and make some big plays on the defensive end," Toot said. "We were able to hang around long enough to give ourselves a shot at the end. We just fell short against a great team."
Baldwin took an early 3-2 lead, but Piper took control soon after. The Bulldogs were only behind 14-12 at the end of the first quarter, but they only scored six points in the second period.
"Offensively we struggled, but that's kind of been a problem all year," Toot said. "When we can't run, and good teams won't let you run, we struggle in the half court. It's not because of lack of execution or effort. At times we just haven't gotten our shots to fall on a consistent basis. I think they (Piper) play good defense, so most of the credit should go to them."
The Bulldogs established a bit of a reputation for having the ability to close leads quickly at the end of games. They cut a 10-point fourth quarter lead down to a one-point lead last Thursday night against Basehor-Linwood in the sub-state semifinals.
"Just like all year and the game before, we didn't give up," Wieden said. "We were down and we played with a lot of heart. We were able to come back."
Toot said the full-court press has worked for the Bulldogs when they use is sparingly.
"It's something we've been able to do here in the later part of the season," Toot said. "It's difficult to press an entire game and I think it works better when you hold off until the point in the game when you need it. We caught them off guard, continued to play and gave ourselves a chance at the end."
The effort that Baldwin gave each game made the loss even harder on Toot, who was in his first year of coaching the Bulldogs.
"I've been proud of their effort all year," Toot said. "I couldn't ask for more than these young men gave me this year. It wasn't just Saturday. That was a typical performance every game we played.
"I really hurt a lot for me and the team because I know the amount of effort the kids gave throughout the year," Toot said. "I was hoping to reward them with a trip to Salina."
Saturdays' game was the final for the four seniors: Caj Kueffer, Madl, Scott and Wieden.
"It was really tough considering the season we had and all of its success," Wieden said. "For it to come to an end and be that close was tough. It would have been nice to end on a win, but it would be tough to do that."