By RON PRESTON
SALINA – At the beginning of the season there are 64 Class 4A basketball teams who have dreams of making it to the state tournament.
The games are played and that number is paired down to 32 to go into in sub-state tournament qualification and an opportunity to play for the right to be one of the final eight teams to make their dream come true.
The Abilene Cowboys were one of those eight to punch their ticket to the Class 4A State Basketball tournament in Salina.
The Cowboys won their first game against Independence on Wednesday but were blown out by an undefeated Highland Park team on Friday night, then made the quick turnaround to play another quality opponent in the Andale Indians Saturday afternoon for the third place game.
The Indians got the best of the Cowboys on this afternoon with a 54-41 victory to finish third and take home the third place trophy.
The Cowboys ran out of gas at the end plus missing one of their leading players due to injury and ended their season at 20-6 and fourth place in the state tournament.
“Playing for pride today. Some teams might have laid down and didn’t try. I thought our kids tried and gave a good effort, the tank was just out of gas there at the end,” said Cowboy Coach Terry Taylor at the end of the tournament.
“Got to have some fuel to make it work and we didn’t today, we were empty,” Taylor said.
The Cowboys got off to a quick start with a 5-0 run in the first quarter.
Seniors Jacob Harms had a pair of inside shots and Trevor Witt put in one of two free throws before the Indians came back after a time out with a jumper by Jason Hermreck and a trey at the buzzer from Bo Knoblauck to tie the Cowboys 5-5 at the end of one.
“We got off to a pretty good start but we couldn’t score, even though we had them down, we couldn’t score. They make a three at the buzzer and it’s 5-5, we didn’t gain anything, we played even,” said coach Taylor.
Keil Kelly got the Cowboys started in the second quarter with an inside side shot at the glass off an assist by Harms to again tie the Indians at 7-7.
Andale took a 9-7 lead and the Cowboys called a time out with 4:56 left to play in the first half.
Following the time out, Jesse Patrick drove the lane for a layup and tied the score 9-9.
Senior point guard Matthew Barlow gave the Cowboys the lead 12-11 with a trey from the wing.
From there the Indians went on a 9-1 run to end the half with a 20-13 lead.
The Cowboys opened the third period with a 12-4 run and reducing the Indian lead to three 24-21 with 4:57 left on the third quarter clock.
Harms put in an inside shot followed by a Tanner Hoekman trey, a Patrick jumper and a trey from Barlow to be within three points.
Abilene kept the game within reach until the Indians went on attack in the final two minutes of the quarter.
The Indians took a 37-28 lead into the final eight minutes.
The Cowboys cut into the Indians lead with a Harms traditional three- point play followed by a Kelly drive through the paint and a Patrick jumper to make the score 41-35, Andale.
Andale stretched the lead to 10 points with less than two minutes to play and ended the game on a 5-1 sprint to win 54-41.
Harms was the leading scorer for the Cowboys with 14 points while fellow senior Barlow added 8 points in their final game as Cowboys.
Getting the ball into Harms was the game plan going into the game.
“It was just a little too much too late, at the end. He got some points inside. We were hoping to establish that early and we didn’t do a good job of it,” added coach Taylor.
“Andale’s a well coached team and a very tough competitor. I told the kids they were going to compete very hard and I thought we did too,” Taylor said.
Reflecting on the season that ended for the Cowboys and their senior class of Matthew Barlow, Andy Wilson, Kaynan Anderson, Marcus Gonzales, Jacob Harms and Trevor Witt, coach Taylor said, “It was a pretty good year. The tournament wasn’t very nice to us.”
“The regular season we were 16-4 and then we had a really nice sub-state. I’m really proud of the way we battled through that and got here on Wednesday and found a way to win over Independence, kind of all fell apart against Highland Park, got blown out and had an injury to one of your better players and it’s tough turnaround.”
The Cowboys won’t know the status on senior Andy Wilson until a full MRI is run which is scheduled for Monday.
“You play late on Friday night, get home about midnight and then got to be here at 2 p.m. That’s a tough deal for kids,” he said.
“Matthew Barlow just played his heart out, he was so tired physically, he played more minutes tonight than we would have liked to. Last night he was shoved all over the place trying to bring the ball down the court against Highland Park, and that wore on him and he got tired and not having your leading scorer I’m not making excuses, that’s hard on kids losing a major cog to your offense,” said Taylor.
“This is a very good senior class; six kids played their last game today and gave a great effort. It’s tough on a coach to lose a class like that and then fill the holes they left. We’re going to be a completely different team next year, we’ll be young and it’s gona be an exciting time as a coach to see what you can mold together,” concluded coach Taylor.
This senior class took home 4th place medals after appearing in back-to-back state tournaments during their career.
Andale 54, Abilene 41
Andale (22-3) 5 15 17 17 – 54
Abilene (20-6) 5 8 15 13 - 41
Andale: B. Knoblaugh 3, H. Knoblaugh 16, Reichenberger 1, Seiler 10, Macan 4, Hermreck 8, Deaver 12.
Abilene: Barlow 8, Hoekman 3, Kelly 7, Patrick 7, Harms 14, Witt 2.