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Wildcat boys drop second game of Bluestem Classic

Lionel Tipton
El Dorado's Dravin Fowler (10) cuts through the heart of the Manhattan CHIEF defense in Thursday's second game of the Bluestem Classic.

EL DORADO—El Dorado coach Drew Culbertson probably described this week’s schedule the best:

“We’re kind of in the middle of a gauntlet right here,” he said Thursday night after a tough 59-55 loss to Manhattan CHIEF, a Christian-based homeschool team, in the middle game of the round-robin Bluestem Classic.

Thursday’s game was sandwiched between Monday’s 59-47 loss to Wichita West, and Wichita Collegiate looming in Saturday’s windup. 

Collegiate also fell to CHIEF, 59-57, but edged West on Thursday, 65-64.

It was a different look for this year’s Bluestem Classic, which normally sports an eight-team bracket. 

CHIEF (11-2) had a decided height advantage over the Wildcats (1-9), plus the familiarity that comes with having played as a unit for many years.

“Those guys have been playing together for years, and that starts up when they’re in middle school,” El Dorado coach Drew Culbertson said. “They’re all playing together and using the same system. I call them ‘skilled cutters’ – they’re great at finding soft spots and finding their teammates in those soft spots.”

The game might well have had a different outcome had El Dorado been able to hit 2- and 3-foot shots, known as “bunnies” in basketball jargon.

“That’s been the same story the whole year,” Culbertson said. “We’ve been missing bunnies all year. I don’t know what we need to do better, but I kind of feel like if we make bunnies this season, we’ve probably got 4-5 more wins, but that’s the way it goes.

“Just unlucky, I guess, and we’ve got to get better at being able to convert those chances.”

The game was close throughout, but CHIEF – for Christian Homes in Educational Fellowship –managed to stay just slightly ahead, at least until the third quarter. 

El Dorado came alive at that point, and the normally poised CHIEF players began to turn the ball over – six times in the period.

“At one point, we got nine straight stops,” Culbertson said. “We were talking; we were aggressive; we got after it, and that just shows what we’re capable of.” 

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep that up for the fourth quarter, but I feel that’s something we can build off of. We just couldn’t get stops when we needed to (Thursday night), and we gave up that fourth-quarter lead. 

“Just a frustrating fourth quarter there," Culbertson said.

In the third quarter, El Dorado outscored CHIEF 9-5 in the period and forged a 36-36 tie at the end of the quarter, taking advantage of six turnovers in the quarter – uncharacteristic for CHIEF. There were four ties in the second half as well as four lead changes. Every time the Wildcats would inch ahead – the last time at 47-42 with 4:57 left to play. But CHIEF always seemed to managed an answer and retook the lead for good with 3:28 left. 

El Dorado had numerous chances to whittle the deficit or regain the lead, but fell just short, virtually to the final buzzer.

One bright spot for the Wildcats was the return of sophomore L.J. Berkstresser’s scoring touch. He finished with a game-high 23 points – his best game since torching Circle for 30 points in a 74-70 overtime loss. His long-range touch returned as well, hitting four three-pointers.

“I think he was taking some better shots,” Culbertson said. “He was taking them in rhythm, he didn’t force it much, and when he does that, he plays within himself, he’s a pretty good player.

“He’s going to help us going forward.”

Manhattan CHIEF 59, El Dorado 55

Manhattan CHIEF 19;12;5;23 – 59

El Dorado 15;12;9;19 – 55

Manhattan CHIEF: C. Mericle 5(1) 5-6 18, A. Mericle 2(1) 2-3 9, E. Kraus 2(1) 2-2 9, S. Kraus 3 2-3 8, Schurle 2 3-6 7, Ga. Amerin 1(1) 0-0 5, Gr. Amerin 0 (1) 0-0 3. Totals 15(5) 14-20 59.

El Dorado: Berkstresser 5(4) 1-2 23, Sundgren 2(2) 0-2 10, Wittenberg 3 0-0 6, Clausing 3 0-0 6, Kemboi 1 1-2 3, Baker 0(1) 0-0 3, Veatch 1 0-0 2, Rice 1 0-0 2. Totals 16(7) 2-5 55.