Sunday, March 9, 2014

COMMENTARY: Magic of high school basketball on display Saturday night at Basehor-Linwood


KANSAS CITY, KAN. ----- It's been over a year since I fired myself quit from high school sports coverage.

During the year, I've had mixed emotions about my decision.

On the plus side, I have more time on Tuesday nights and Friday nights than I normally would. This is especially important considering that I covered nearly 15 high schools in Kansas City, Kan., and the Kaw Valley League. This time off has also helped me dramatically improve my health, as I've lost around 250 pounds the last two years. On this Sunday morning, let me thank God for that.

But on Saturday night at Basehor-Linwood High School, I was reminded why I was a high school sports reporter for seven years, part-time for the first four years and full-time the last three.

The boys and girls basketball programs from Basehor-Linwood and Piper squared off for the opportunity to play in the 4A state tournament next week in Salina, Kan. I was encouraged by my friend Rodney White to come out - and I'm glad I did.

The Piper girls were looking to defeat Basehor-Linwood a third time, while the Basehor-Linwood boys were looking to complete a three-game sweep of Piper.

Both teams got the job done - but it wasn't easy in either case.

The Piper girls defeated Basehor-Linwood in a hard fought, two-point game that came down to the final possession. Improving to 18-3 on the season, the Lady Pirates will travel to Salina next week and look to win a state championship.

The players from both teams fought hard on the loose balls and rebounds. It was a close game throughout - and please let me borrow a cliche - they battled until the final whistle.

Piper head coach Shane Stout has done a great job turning around a losing program he inherited three years ago. Now the Pirates have won a Kaw Valley League title and a sub-state championship within that short time frame. The players and coaches deserve a lot of credit.

While Basehor-Linwood lost the game, it was not a losing effort. The team used hard work and hustle to overcome disadvantages in talent and experience.

Head coach Jason Tatkenhorst, in his second season, did a great job. Tatkenhorst also did something I never seen from any coach in my seven years of reporting. During a timeout, he ran across the court to fire up Basehor-Linwood's excellent student section. It may sound odd, but he's the type of coach I would want my daughter to play for if she played basketball. I loved it.

Two hours later, the Bobcats and Pirates boys program completed an impressive trilogy of games in their season series this year.

Basehor-Linwood won all three games in the season series by a combined score of 233-225. Two of those games came down to the final shot - and both games were won in the final seconds by sophomore Jahron McPherson.

In the first game between the two earlier this season, McPherson hit a game-winner in a double-overtime classic that ended 100-99 in Basehor's favor.

On Saturday night, the sophomore proved that you do not have to be an upperclassman to have ice in the veins.

With the score tied at 56, McPherson drilled a three-pointer at the top of the key to give Basehor-Linwood a 59-56 lead with under a minute left in the game. After two Piper points cut it down to 59-58, McPherson calmly hit two free-throws to extend the lead to three, forcing Piper to take a difficult three-pointer on its final possession.

Basehor-Linwood will look to win its third state championship since 2009.

Bobcats seniors Chase Younger, Tim Sanders, Zach McNabb and JP Downing have a chance to win their second rings, as all played on the 2012 state championship squad. It was a team effort and each player contributed to the win. Newcomer Patrick Muldoon provides Basehor-Linwood a great presence in the middle.

Piper's senior class deserves a lot of praise, too. The nine-member senior class will be remembered as the one that turned the Pirates basketball program around. After underachieving for a number of years, Piper went to the state tournament last year and was three points away from another trip.

Dominique Jennings, Luke Long, Vincent Eskina (a junior) and Tyler Owens all played well Saturday night. While the scoreboard only displays one winner when it comes to the team, the senior class at Piper will forever be considered winners in my book.

Along with the players, the coaches reminded me why I loved covering the sport of basketball too.

It was fun watching Basehor-Linwood head coach Mike McBride and Piper head coach Steve Wallace during the game. Both are great competitors and both are great coaches. Both inherited down programs and McBride has a chance to win his third state championship next week. He's won several coach of the year awards (including ours in 2012) and deservedly so.

Wallace, meanwhile, has done arguably the best two-year coaching job in the entire Kansas City metro area. He took over a two-win Piper program and has led his team to 32 wins the past two seasons, including a trip to Salina in 2013.

Piper fans may be disappointed this weekend and if Basehor-Linwood doesn't win the title next week, Bobcats fans may feel disappointed. However, both fan bases should always feel blessed that they have excellent coaches steering the ship. Good high school coaches are tough to come by. All players who play for them get a fair shot at succeeding - and it's almost a guarantee that all players get better under both coaches. That's all you can ask for from any coach.

There's a lot wrong with high school sports these days. Parents have too much control. AAU basketball has taken over high school basketball when it comes to the importance of recruiting. Sportsmanship is lacking these days and the fan support in some communities is low, including most schools in KCK.

The basketball programs at Basehor-Linwood High School and Piper High School are what's right about high school sports.

I wish the Piper girls and the Basehor-Linwood boys well in Salina next week. Congratulations to the Piper boys and Basehor-Linwood girls on having excellent seasons.

And thanks for reminding me why I loved doing what I did for seven years.