Wildcats avenge 2OT loss with big home win

Lionel Tipton
El Dorado’s Jermiah Kemboi (20) goes into the lane for a layup against Circle on Friday, Feb. 19 at El Dorado High School.

EL DORADO, KANSAS—El Dorado coach Drew Culbertson must have felt he was having flashbacks.

The Wildcats, playing neck-and-neck with archrival Circle through much of the first half, went on a 6-0 run opening the third quarter and expanded their lead to 10, 38-28, with 7:04 left in the third quarter. 

But, just as in the first game Jan. 8 at Circle, the Thunderbirds gradually chipped away and led by four, 53-49, with 6:07 left in the game.

This time, it was El Dorado’s turn to rally, and the Wildcats erased the Circle lead and held on for a 58-57 victory Friday night.

But even that wasn’t easy.

The Wildcats (4-13), scoreless for the final 3:37 of the game, managed to withstand a baseline three-point attempt at the buzzer by Circle’s Luke McGinnis and escape on Homecoming Night.

Although El Dorado sent its fans home happy, it was doubly devastating for Circle, which suffered its second loss in 24 hours. Augusta spoiled the Thunderbirds’ Homecoming on Thursday night on a last-second three-point basket, 47-46.

Friday night, the Thunderbirds (5-14) were in a position to ruin a homecoming on a three-point try, but McGinnis’ left baseline shot hit the side of the backboard. 

“We almost gave the game away there at the end,” a relieved Culbertson said. “We didn’t do what we needed to do to close out the game offensively, but we found some way to get some stops there at the end and finish it out.”

Culbertson said his team might have benefited from not having a game Thursday night and maybe had fresher legs. But El Dorado’s practice routine was altered this week as well.

In the first game between the rivals, which Circle won, 74-70 in double overtime, Circle senior guard Drew Middleton and El Dorado’s L.J. Berkstresser waged a shootout that Middleton won, 31-30. Middleton still got his Friday night, finishing with a game-high 22 points. 

Berkstresser was held scoreless in the first half but contributed seven crucial points in the second half.

“He’s struggling shooting the ball a little bit right now, but he’s finding other ways to contribute,” Culbertson said. “He’s rebounding, getting steals, and really looking for his teammates and not trying to force the issue too much. So, he’s doing a good job.”

And, he had some help in the scoring column. Junior forward Connor Clausing used his 6-foot-4 frame to snag key rebounds and put them back in for 12 points. Senior Jeremiah Kemboi matched that total, and junior point guard Jaydon Sundgren finished with 10.

“We wanted to try to get that ball into the post a little more a little bit,” Culbertson said. “I don’t think we look for it enough, and (Friday night) we really looked for it and (we were) able to get them in foul trouble.”

“When we get the ball into the post, we can be pretty good, but we struggle getting it in there sometimes. I think our posts stepped up when they were given a chance and did a good job.”

El Dorado 58, Circle 57

Circle 14;14;14;15 – 57

El Dorado 18;14;15;11 – 58

CIRCLE – Drew Middleton 4(4) 2-2 22, McGinnis 1(2) 3-4 11, Cowman 2(2) 0-0 10, Smith 2 2-2 6, Galloway 2 0-0 4, Koehn 0 2-4 2, D.J. Middleton 1 0-1 2. Totals 12(8) 9-13 57.

EL DORADO – Kemboi 3 6-9 12, Clausing 5 2-5 12, Sundgren 1(2) 2-2 10, Berkstresser 2(1) 0-1 7, Wittenberg 1(1) 2-2 7, Rice 2 0-0 4, Baker 0(1) 0-0 3, Veatch 0(1) 0-0 3. Totals 14(6) 12-19 58.