Jaguars advance to state semi-finals

Basketball team defeats Salina Central 55-46 in first round of state tournament

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By Karissa Schmidt

Senior Logan Koch pushes past his opponent.

Tori Aerni, Braden Shaw, JagWire editor-in-chief, JagWire sports editor

A sense of redemption and relief filled the court and the student section after the Jaguars beat the Salina Central Mustangs, 55-46, in the first round of state play on Wednesday, March 9. The team lost last year in the same game.

Head coach Mike Bennett said this win can be attributed to the team’s familiarity with the state tournament, despite last year’s loss.

“I think the experience being here last year helped us,” Bennett said. “We knew what it took to win and it’s a great win for our team.”

The first quarter began with consecutive three-pointers by senior guard Kasey Conklin and ended with a buzzer-beating three-pointer by senior guard Jaison Widmer, giving the Jaguars an early 20-11 lead.

The momentum shifted in the second quarter as the Mustangs went on a 13-3 run to take a 24-23 lead at the end of the half. (Click here for first half photos) Senior forward Clayton Holmberg said the team was able to regroup at halftime to stay in the game.

“At halftime, [coach Bennett] and all of us were saying that we needed to bring the energy that we had at the beginning of the game,” Holmberg said. “Once we did that in the second half it was enough [to win the game].”

Even though the Jaguars were trailing going into the third quarter, this part of the game was a favorite moment for sophomore Izzy Hellon, thanks to a student section tradition.

“My favorite part of the game was after second half, when we all stand up when they make their first basket and it’s really exciting and gets [the student section] hyped up,” Hellon said. “[The state tournament] not only brings out kids to support the team, but it gives the school spirit and makes us all come together.”

The third quarter continued the trend of a tightly contested matchup,  highlighted by the Jaguars ending the Mustangs run. By the end of the third quarter, Conklin led the team in scoring with 12 points, six being in the third quarter.

To begin the fourth quarter, the Jaguars trailed 35-33. After two quarters of coming from behind, the Jaguars regained the lead with a layup by Widmer and a fifth three-pointer by Conklin and held the lead for the rest of the game. Conklin led the team in scoring with 15 points.

After losing at this point last season and knowing that this could have been the end of this year’s season, senior forward Tyler Grauer said the win was even more satisfying.

“It was a relief to us seniors especially,” Grauer said. “This is our last season and this could have been our last game. But we persevered and we were able to fight through and win as a team.”

Bennett believes that a few key improvements will help the Jaguars to continue to win going forward in the state tournament.

“We’ve just got to go out and compete,” Bennett said. “We’ve got to continue to try to play solid defense and work the ball and continue to get the shots we want, and I think everything will be OK.”

The Jaguars will play the eight seed Washington High School on Friday, March 11 at 4:45 p.m. at the Topeka Expocentre. (Click here for second half photos)

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