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Posted 3/8/2018

Halstead To Play No. 1 Seed Friday

By Jared Janzen

HALSTEAD—DownANDREW O’Brien goes for a lay-up Wednesday night against Caney Valley. He scored 21 points that game and made an impressive 18 rebounds.ANDREW O’Brien goes for a lay-up Wednesday night against Caney Valley. He scored 21 points that game and made an impressive 18 rebounds. by six points early in the final quarter, the Halstead Dragons rallied for a two-point win over Caney Valley on Wednesday night in the opening round of the 3A Boys Basketball State Tournament in Hutchinson.

“They never quit,” head coach Lonnie Lollar said about his team. “They showed a lot of heart and fought it out.”

The fifth-seeded Dragons (now 21-2) secured a 65-63 win over No. 4 Caney Valley (20-3) and will advance to the tournament semifinals. They’re scheduled to play No. 1 Atchison-Maur Hill-Mount Academy at 4:45 p.m. this Friday at Hutchison Community College in Hutchison.

Looking ahead to Friday night’s game against MH-MA, Lollar said it would be a very tough battle. He noted that the team has a lot of size and relies on three-point shots, often making deep threes from way beyond the arc.

MH-MA (23-1) defeated No. 8 Council Grove (11-12) in the opening round, 59-56, thanks to a last-second shot.

If the Dragons beat MH-MA, they’ll play in the championship game at 6:15 p.m. Saturday. If they lose, they’ll play for third place at 2 p.m.

In the game against Caney Valley, senior Kason O’Neal scored the first points of the match with a pair of free throws, but Caney Valley quickly tied it up and then built themselves an 8-2 lead thanks to a couple treys. Halstead responded with three’s from Braden Gerber and Andrew O’Brien, which along with a Gerber free throw put the Dragons back in the lead, 11-9, with 2:31 to play in the first quarter.

Caney Valley made its third shot from beyond the arc to tie the game at 13-all, but then O’Brien closed the first quarter with two buckets to give the Dragons a four-point lead at the quarter, 17-13.

KASON O’Neal drops in a basket during the opening round of the state tournament. He scored 17 points that game.KASON O’Neal drops in a basket during the opening round of the state tournament. He scored 17 points that game.The Dragons kept their advantage throughout the second period. O’Brien and O’Neal each made baskets for the Dragons to complete an 8-0 run that O’Brien had started at the end of the first quarter.

Halstead tried to pull away, building up a nine-point lead a couple times late in the second quarter, but the Bullpups closed the gap to three, 31-28, with 1:20 left in the half. A trey by O’Neal and two shots from the line by O’Brien put the Dragons back up by eight points at the half, 36-28.

Coming into the second half, Caney Valley capitalized off a couple Dragon turnovers to make five points, but Dalton Kraus responded with back-to-back threes to put his team up by 10, their biggest lead of the game.

“Dalton Kraus had a lot of clutch baskets,” Lollar said.

That bright spot didn’t last long, however, as the Bullpups then proceeded on a 9-0, three-minute run until they had come with a single point, 42-41, with 2:21 left in the third.

“That team plays with a lot of confidence, whether they’re up or behind,” Lollar said.

O’Brien broke the streak, but then the Bullpups had another quick run to reclaim the lead, 47-44 with just under a minute to play in the third period. Halstead trailed 46-50 heading into the fourth.

The Bullpups started the quarter with a pair of free throws to get up by six points. Braden Gerber, usually one of the Dragons’ top scorers, had only made a single free throw during the first three quarters of the game, but he sunk a three in the first minute of the fourth quarter. O’Neal made a shot, and then D. Kraus hit a trey to put the Dragons back in front, 54-52 with 4:23 left in the game. O’Neal scored a pair of baskets as the minutes ticked away and Caney Valley failed to score, putting Halstead up 58-52 with just under two minutes left.

The Bullpups kept trying to close this gap, but a slam-dunk by O’Neal kept Dragon spirits high and gave the team a 62-57 advantage with 44 seconds left.

“When Kason threw that tomahawk dunk down, it was like an exclamation point,” Lollar said. “It felt like we weren’t going to lose at that point.”

Caney Valley made a three with 20 seconds on the clock, 62-60, and then Gerber made a pair of free throws, 64-60. The Bullpups snuck in another three to come within just one point, 64-63 with three seconds on the clock. They fouled O’Brien, who went one for two, but it was enough. A last-second three-point attempt by Caney Valley failed, and the Dragons won, 65-63.

NO. 12 Dalton Kraus guards a Bullpup. NO. 12 Dalton Kraus guards a Bullpup. O’Brien racked up impressive totals during the game, making 21 points, 18 rebound and six assists.

“Andrew played like a man on the defensive boards tonight,” Lollar said. “He took his game to a new level.”

Three other Dragons poured in double digits: O’Neal with 17, D. Kraus with 13 and Baylor Bohling  with 10. Gerber had four points on the night.

Like O’Brien, the Bullpups’ leading scorer, No. 5 Carter Brown, also had 21 points.

Both teams were 11-of-17 at the free throw line. The Dragons collectively made 8-of-17 from beyond the arc, while the Bullpups shot 10-of-28.

Lollar said Caney Valley was by far the best three-point-shooting team in his opinion that the Dragons have faced, noting that they had made some unbelievable shots.

The win over Caney Valley was even more special for Lollar and O’Neal because both coach and player had a birthday that day.

“Every birthday I’m blessed with after this, I’m going to think about this one,” Lollar said.

With this being Lollar’s eighth trip to state as a coach, plus three times as a player, he said atmosphere of community support and adulation stood out to him this time around. He thanked the school district and the Halstead community for their tremendous support prior to the game with the pep rally, parade and fire department escort.

“I felt like I was in a movie,” he said.

For coverage of the Dragons' sub-state run and other Halstead sports, please see this week's print edition.