Bulldogs avenge Wildcat victories
There was a one-point loss at Louisburg in December. Prior to that game, there was the sweep during football season, including the final loss in the state semifinal round.
No need to ask whether motivation was a factor in Friday's 61-44 victory. The Baldwin High School boys' basketball players were glad to share their enthusiasm after their home win over the Wildcats.
"It was a really big win tonight, especially coming off the loss to them earlier," senior Dustin Schiller said. "We pretty much dominated them tonight."
On Dec. 7, Baldwin and Louisburg battled in the championship game of the Bulldog/Wildcat Classic. Baldwin had three shots during the final seconds of the game, but all bounced off the rim as Louisburg won 70-69.
The Wildcats swept Baldwin in football. Both games were played in Louisburg. The Wildcats won 31-20 on Sept. 28 and then they defeated the Bulldogs 21-14 on Nov. 15. The final loss ended the Bulldogs Class 4A state playoff run.
Baldwin (13-3) had their revenge Friday night. Senior Drew Berg, who scored a team-high 14 points Friday, was happy to finally beat the Wildcats.
"They beat us in football and they beat us in the first game of basketball, too," Berg said. "They pretty much beat us in everything. So it was nice to get one win against them."
The BHS players weren't the only ones excited about Friday's victory. Coach Eric Toot was thrilled, too, especially for his players though.
"This was a great win for our kids tonight," Toot said. "After football and battling them and coming out on the short end in our first game this year, I am happy for our kids to finally get over the hump and give them a game to remember when their careers are over."
Every team enjoys a victory, but when it plays well doing so, that win becomes much sweeter. That was the case Friday.
After a shaky first quarter, Baldwin controlled the game. Freshman Justin Vander Tuig scored the final points of the first quarter on a shot that gave BHS a 16-15 lead. The Bulldogs never looked back as they never trailed again.
One primary reason for the Bulldogs' success was its defense, especially against Louisburg's star senior Jordan Embers. The Wildcat senior only managed to score seven points.
"We didn't want Embers to get loose," Toot said. "He is one of the best players in the state. I just wanted to make sure he didn't get hot on us early. He had 34 on us last game and we couldn't let that happen again.
"Clad was on him most of the night, with Drew and Beecher on him a little bit," Toot said. "Clad Kueffer was just incredible defensively tonight. He was with him the whole way with a hand in his face. He didn't give him any open looks."
However, it was the Bulldogs' defense that nearly got them in trouble early in the game. They came out in a zone with Schiller following Embers around the court. The defense shut down Embers, but left Wildcat senior Jason Spradling open several times.
Spradling sank four three-pointers in the first quarter as Louisburg took an early 12-5 lead.
"We started off with a 1-3-1 defense and I was chasing their shooter around," Schiller said. "They started making their threes out of that, so we went back to man defense. Then we started making the comeback."
Toot said the defense was a mistake on his part.
"We started off in a gimmick defense, because of poor coaching on my part," Toot said. "We got down early, but then came back and dug in man-to-man, like we usually play. We controlled the game from there. Our defense was the key tonight, without a doubt."
After taking the lead, the Bulldogs' offense took charge. They shot 44 percent from the field, including 48 percent from two-point range. Offensive production is something Baldwin has been searching for during recent games.
"It felt awesome to shoot well," Berg said. "We've been struggling offensively for the past two weeks or so. Tonight, it all came together."
Schiller agreed, saying the Bulldogs have overcome the offensive drought that hindered them in previous league contests.
"I think we've finally gotten over that slump," Schiller said. "Everyone had confidence when they pulled up for a shot tonight. I think everyone could see that."
Toot said part of the reason for the shooting spark was the fact that Baldwin was playing at home.
"People underestimate home-court advantage, even in high school," Toot said. "Tonight was just a big night. We had lots of energy. Going into tonight, we have been struggling with confidence. Our kids just fed off of the court, were the aggressors and were really confident on offense tonight."
The Bulldogs played at Paola Tuesday and won 62-42. They will play at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Spring Hill. Then they turn around and host Kansas City Turner at 5 p.m. Saturday. After a practice on Monday, they travel to Atchison to play at 7 p.m.
"We are really excited about next week," Toot said. "That's what the kids want to do. They want to play games. We are at that point in the season where we play about as much as we practice and that is fun."