EL DORADO — The El Dorado Wildcats won fifth place in the 52nd Annual Bluestem Classic over Manhattan Home School CHIEF on Saturday afternoon but it was not without its dramatics.

After leading by 18 in the first half, El Dorado held on for a wild finish but ultimately held on to the 73-68 victory.

“It got a little uneasy there at the end,” El Dorado head coach Jordon Regehr said. “We made our free throws and we were able to close it out.”

It was as if the first bucket of the game would predict how the game would go. A cutting Jeramiah Kemboi was wide open. Manhattan came back, hit a bucket and the teams would go back-and-forth.

The lead started to sway in the way of the Wildcats as Kemboi and Clausing would hit key buckets.

The Wildcats led by as many as 18 in the game and really never let CHIEF get back in the game after having their way with whatever they wanted in the first half.

A three-pointer by Garrett Meyer put the Wildcats up 33-15 in the second quarter and the runaway victory was on from there.

After leading 36-21 at the break, the Wildcats had to face a run by CHIEF and did a good of weathering the storm. Everyone knew they were going to make some sort of a run. A team that had been averaging over 70 points for the tournament did just that, but the Wildcats held them at bay in the third.

CHIEF (7-3) made a push, cutting it to 47-37 with 2:18 to go in the the third quarter but the Wildcats went to Zach Wittenberg time and time again in the third and he kept his team afloat.

After forcing a turnover, CHIEF drove down, getting Cody Shurle to the rim and fouled with 6:28 remaining. Shrule cut the lead 57-48. Aden and Cody Mericle combined to for back-to-back buckets and the Wildcats let CHIEF within 60-53 with 4:59 remaining.

After Cody Mericle hit an open jumper cutting the Wildcats lead to 66-60 with 3:14 remaining, Zach Wittenberg went down, drew a foul and hit the bucket. Completing the and-one gave the Wildcats a 69-62 lead with 2:58 to go.

“We’ve been there before,” Wittenberg said. “Like in the Winfield game, it gives us the motivation to finish strong.”

The Wildcats did their best by hitting their free throws down the stretch as CHIEF never really found their big bucket after cutting the lead down 69-66 with 1:58 remaining. Wittenberg and Kemboi hit their free throws to seal the game.

“He [Jeremiah Kemboi] wants the ball in his hands in those situations,” Regehr said. “With the foul trouble Jaydon, Jeremiah stepped up for us.”

Kemboi finished with 17 points to lead the Wildcats. Wittenberg had 16 points and Meyer had 11 as well.

Cody Mericle led CHIEF with 24 points, 18 of those in the second half and 10 in the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats resume regular season action as they travel to Andale on Tuesday, Jan. 28.

“Starting with the loss motivated us,” Wittenberg said. “Getting fifth place is better than getting fourth place because you go 2-1.”

MH CHIEF – 11; 10; 20; 27 – 68
EL DORADO – 17; 19; 18; 19 – 73

CHIEF – Cody Mericle 24, Aden Mericle 15, Schurle 9, Kraus 6, White 6, Mugler 4, Cadada 4
El Dorado – Kemboi 17, Wittenberg 16, Meyer 11, Johnson 7, Sundgren 6, Clausing 6, Berkstresser 5, Baker 3, Fowler 2