EL DORADO – All season long, the El Dorado Wildcats played this great first quarter. They did it against really good teams. They were level with Augusta after one. They led mighty McPherson after the first.
Things always slipped away whether it be for just made shots or a player getting hot and taking over the game like against Augusta. On Friday afternoon, the Wildcats took hold and never relinquished.
El Dorado beat rival Circle 55-45 in the 52nd annual Bluestem Classic. It’s a game El Dorado wanted and needed to have.
The Wildcats (3-8) had lost seven straight games heading into Friday’s game against Circle. Where many of those games the Wildcats held leads but squandered them away.
“I told my guys they were due,” El Dorado head coach Jordon Regehr said. “I didn’t tell them we were due a win but a game where we played for 32 minutes.”
Though Circle may not consider El Dorado a rival but in the consolation, the game was everything that a rivalry makes. The two schools are bound by only an imaginary boundary going toe-to-toe in a game that meant either heading to the last place game or playing for the Consolation Championship.
The Wildcats seemed to have more energy. They were a step quicker than Circle all evening long and the T-Birds, who’ve only played two games in over a month appeared to still be knocking the rust off. The Wildcats took advantage.
Circle hit their first four threes, but it was always a response by El Dorado. A team getting hot from deep on you, as they did the previous game could kill spirits, but the Wildcats battled
Jeramiah Kimboi hit two free throws with 3:23 to go in the first quarter to give the Wildcats their first lead at 13-12.
The T-Birds would go on a 10-2 run to start the second quarter off another Beougher three-pointer, giving Circle a 23-19 lead with 5:28 to go until halftime. Jake Johnson hitting a three and then getting to the rim on a set play.
“I thought Jake, especially in the first half was outstanding for us,” Regeher said. “He was there a lot of the times we needed him.”
The Wildcats would take a 27-26 lead into the break. It would be the first time they led at halftime since Rose Hill on Jan. 7.
Mikah Willhite and Jaydon Sundgren would trade three-pointers in the second half as the battle continued. The Wildcats never really folded. They could have and in the past they might have done so.
El Dorado used a sequence of events to take their largest lead of the night. First, it was Sundgren’s free throw with 6:19 to go in the game. Then, fellow teammate, Zach Wittenberg, hit a turner around jumper from the left block to put the Wildcats up 42-36 with 5:04 remaining. Fantastic ball movement saw Wittenberg find Johnson, who found Kimboi cutting in the backdoor for the layup. Kimboi made the layup, giving the Wildcats a 45-38 lead.
“I didn’t play with a lot of these guys as they were on the freshman team last year,” Johnson said. “It’s been a lot of fun getting to learn how to play with them and we’re starting to see the results of that.”
Eli Jacobson quieted the El Dorado run with a spinning layup that cut the lead down to 47-41 with 2:43 to go.
Garrett Meyer found a cutting Johnson to the rim with 1:36 to go in the game to put the Wildcats up 51-41, their largest lead of the game.
Johnson led El Dorado with 23 points, including 12 in the first half. Kemboi had nine points and Wittenberg had seven for the Wildcats.
After letting Circle hit five threes in the first half, it was the Wildcat defense that limited Circle to only two made threes in the second ahlf.
“We just communicated as a defense,” Johnson said. “We contested their shots and made everything tough.”
Beougher led the T-Birds (3-7) with 14 points. Drew Middleton contributed 10 points as well.
El Dorado advances to the Consolation Championship on Saturday, Jan. 25 a 3 p.m. Circle will play in the seventh place game at 1:30 p.m.
Circle 13; 13; 9; 10 – 45
El Dorado 17; 10; 12; 16 – 55
Circle: Beougher 14, Middleton 10, Hromek 9, Jacobson 5, Willhite 4, Shaults 1, Hutson 1, Maholland 1
El Dorado: Johnson 23, Kemboi 9, Wittenberg 7, Meyer 6, Sundgren 5, Clausing 2, Berkstresser 2, Fowler 1