Tigers spurt away from Santa Fe to claim district
Almost as quickly as in the blink of an eye, the top-seeded Wellington Tigers basketball team spurted away from a 37-28 lead to a 55-30 advantage, en route to a 71-43 Class 2, District 15 championship victory over No. 2-seeded Santa Fe Saturday at Sweet Springs.
Trailing by as many as 15 points early in the third quarter, the Chiefs scored eight of the game's next 10 points, including a basket by Noah Stoll and two straight outside shots from Matt Lovercamp.
The six-point spurt forced Wellington head coach Todd Shannon to utilize a time out. His Tigers didn't respond right away, suffering a turnover.
But when the Chiefs missed a chip shot underneath, Wellington dominated, getting two straight baskets by Cody Banner, one from Taylor Bryant, another from Ethan Arndt and Blake Seitz converted on a fast break.
In a two-minute span, Wellington's lead grew from nine to 19.
"If you look back at it, a lot of it came back to our defense and our rebounding," WNHS head coach Todd Shannon said. "When we're doing those things well, that's when we transition the basketball well.
"We probably had more turnovers the first half than we've had in any game this year. But we regained our composure and did a good job down the stretch."
"We had trouble finishing shots," SFHS head coach Travis Zahl said. "Toward the end of the third quarter, we had to go into three-point shooting mode, looking to score fast, which you don't want to do against this team because Wellington is very good. It was either lose by a bunch or get back in the game, and they extended the lead on us toward the end."
A basket by Jeff Kuntz broke the Tigers' run, but only briefly.
Kevin Lamar received a pass from Kent Hendrix and hit a shot down low just ahead of the third-quarter buzzer for a 49-30 Tiger lead.
Scoring the first six points of the final stanza, the Tigers put their stamp on the game.
Wellington's lead grew to as much as 30 points on two different occasions, forcing the quick-clock rule to be used in the final minutes.
The Tigers used various pressure defenses throughout the game, but their trapping defense at the start helped them build an early lead they would never relinquish.
"We thought they were going to do that, and we just didn't do a very good job of handling it," Zahl said. "You've got to execute in big-game situations and we didn't do that right off the bat."
The Tigers opened the game on a 6-0 run, eventually getting the lead to as much as 17-5 when Hendrix drained the second of his four first-half three-pointers.
The Chiefs recovered, getting within 17-9 at the end of the first quarter and to within 17-11 when Kuntz scored a half-minute into the second stanza.
Two threes by Hendrix and two baskets by Ethan Arndt helped the Tigers to a 27-13 advantage. Hendrix hit a 15-foot jumper from the left baseline two minutes later, and the lead was 29-14.
"Kent Hendrix was 'on' in the first half. A couple of times we didn't do a good job of finding him, and he made a couple of plays, too," Zahl said.
"He (Hendrix) has always been a great shooter, but now he's a much better penetrator and passer," Shannon said. "That makes it even harder for our opponents to guard him."
Santa Fe scored six of the final 10 points of the first half, getting baskets from Stoll, Lovercamp and senior Jake Hollingsworth.
Noticeably missing from Santa Fe's offensive attack in the first half was senior Jeff Knipmeyer. He was held scoreless and didn't score until he hit two threes midway through the final quarter.
"We were trying to get the ball inside and be patient," Zahl said. "Jeff didn't have many open looks from the outside. He was trying to distribute the ball and be a team player. I'm sure they knew where Jeff was all night long. "
Zahl said the Chiefs did well, thinking they might have won the battle on the boards.
"Our kids competed hard. We did awesome on the glass," he said.
Wellington, which won its first district title since 2003, finished with five players in double-figure scoring, led by Hendrix with four threes and 17 points, all in the first half. Arndt contributed 14 points, Banner 13 and Seitz and Brandon Davis 10 apiece.
"Out of our five starters, every single one of them has been a leading scorer in a game this season," Shannon said. "It seems like when somebody has an off night, somebody else has stepped up."
Kuntz paced the Chiefs with 12 points, four in each of the first three quarters.
The Chiefs, who graduated all five starters after last year's 26-3 season, responded with a 19-8 campaign this year.
But Zahl will have to replace six seniors-- Stoll, Knipmeyer, Lovercamp, Hunter Rolf and Jake and Max Hollingsworth-- next year.
"They really stepped up this year when maybe a lot of people didn't think they were going to have a good year," Zahl said. "Those kids are (good) ball players.
"I'm very proud of those guys. They've been a pleasure to work with."
Wellington, 27-0, advances to the Class 2 Sectional at North Central Missouri Community College in Trenton. The Tigers will play 27-1 Mid-Buchanan, which upset the state's No. 1 Penney of Hamilton Hornets 70-67 Saturday in the Class 2, District 16 final at Albany. Tip off is set for 7:45 p.m. Wednesday.
The winner advances to the Class 2 Quarterfinal at the Chillicothe Middle School Saturday at 2:45 p.m. The opponent will be the winner of the Sectional between 28-0 Sturgeon and 11-7 Putnam County.