ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ANDREW JOST
The Marion boys had their hands full as they battled against their league rival from the south, Wichita Independent.
Only a buzzer-beater by Tyler Stubenhofer kept the Warriors alive as they went on to edge the visiting Panthers, 40-39, in overtime.
“It was a low-scoring slugfest for 31 minutes of the game,” coach Rex Ostmeyer said after the win.
The night’s contest matched the top two teams of the Cottonwood Valley League, with each team sporting no league losses.
Initially, the Panthers jumped to a four-point lead as Marion struggled to connect offensively. The Warriors remained scoreless through nearly half the first quarter until Tyler Stubenhofer drew his team within one by hitting a 3-pointer.
The Warriors then earned their first lead of the night after Joe Svitak was fouled inside with 3:20 left in the first quarter. Svitak scored the inside bucket and then sunk the bonus free throw, putting the Warriors on top, 6-4.
But the lead was short-lived as Marion found itself trailing, 15-10, at the end of the quarter.
“We had a hard time with their post players all night long,” Ostmeyer said. “We didn’t have the design that we needed to get those guys stopped.”
All the same, Marion’s defense intensified through the opening minutes of the second quarter.
Holding their opponents to only one field goal, the Warriors slowed Independent’s inside game. Totaling only four points for the quarter, the Panthers crawled into halftime with a slim 19-18 advantage.
As play resumed, both teams sputtered offensively under heavy defensive pressure. Ostmeyer said discipline was the key.
“Their post players are as good as anybody we’ve played,” he said. “We weren’t going to get a whole bunch of second chances (offensively), so we had to execute and figure out a way to get the ball in the basket.”
As the last minutes of the third quarter ticked away, Tyler Smith nailed a 3-pointer from the wing, tying the game at 25. Then, following a steal by Svitak, Jared Hett gave the Warriors their third lead of the ball game, 27-25, with 1:47 remaining.
But again, the lead was short-lived. Seventeen seconds into the fourth quarter, Independent’s Doug Roark stroked a 3-pointer, leaving the Warriors in familiar territory, 28-27.
The Panthers then extended the lead to 35-31 with less than a minute left in regulation.
Forced to foul, Marion put the game on the line-the free-throw line, that is. Independent’s Steven Opara connected on his first attempt.
“It really looked bleak at about 40 seconds left and we were down by five,” Ostmeyer said.
But good fortune smiled on Marion.
Following a missed second attempt by Opara, Jared Hett streaked down the court and cashed three crucial points with 36 seconds remaining.
Still trailing, the Warriors again sent Independent to the line. But once more, the Panthers connected on only the first half of a one-and-one with 28 seconds left.
With time expiring and down three, the Warriors missed their next three shots. Then, after yet another unsuccessful trip to the line, the Panthers got shell-shocked.
A breathless Marion crowd exploded as Tyler Stubenhofer dashed across half court and fired from outside the arc as time expired, his shot thumping the front of the iron before dumping in.
With that, a single 3-pointer by Tyler Smith with 2:35 left in extended play was all Marion needed to stay on top for good.
“That’s a very solid basketball team,” Ostmeyer said about Independent. “Something was with us tonight to get us over the top in a situation that looked pretty bleak.”
Stubenhofer led the Warriors with a game-high 13 points. Smith added eight and Jared Hett seven. Marion hit six of 17 3-point attempts for 35 percent.
“This group of kids is unbelievable, and they’re so together that good things happen,” Ostmeyer said.
Wichita Trinity-The visiting Marion boys struggled offensively as they defeated Wichita Trinity Tuesday night 40-38 in a close-scoring defensive battle.
“It was kind of a low-scoring defensive struggle with neither team shooting the ball very well,” coach Rex Ostmeyer said.
“We got good looks, we got the ball inside, but it just seemed like no matter what we did we couldn’t finish.”
Despite the Knights’ size and depth, Ostmeyer contributed the Warriors’ poor offensive performance to a lack in focus.
“They didn’t do anything to us that other people haven’t done,” he said. “We didn’t concentrate and finish.”
At halftime, the Warriors remained locked with the Knights, 21-21.
As play resumed, Marion’s shooting woes only worsened.
“The third quarter was really miserable offensively, basically for both teams,” Ostmeyer said. “We only scored four points, but luckily, they only scored seven.
“Defensively we played really well, forcing them out of any kind of a rhythm.”
In the end, the final outcome of the game was decided in the fourth quarter as the Warriors outscored Trinity, 15-10.
“We finally started making a few shots,” Ostmeyer said. “It’s really hard to play when you’re struggling shooting-wise, but we really scrapped and fought all the way to the end.”
And that’s just what Wichita Trinity gave Marion-a fight to the end.
With seconds ticking away late in the fourth, the Warriors found little comfort in a six-point advantage as the Knights once again climbed within reach of the lead after Marion missed five straight free throws.
“If we’d just made those we wouldn’t have had to sweat it, but then they had a shot with about three seconds left to win it,” Ostmeyer said.
To the relief of the Warriors, Stephen Netherton’s 3-point attempt fell well short as time expired.
Ostmeyer attributed the performance of Tyler Stubenhofer to the Warriors’ hard-fought victory.
“His energy and his grit late in the game probably won it for us,” he said. “He got a rebound put-back bucket that he was fouled on and another basket inside that was crucial inside the last couple of minutes.”
Tyler Smith led the Warriors in scoring with 11, followed closely by Stubenhofer with nine points and seven rebounds. Jared Hett contributed eight points and three steals.
On the night, Marion shot 28 percent from the field and 69 percent from the free throw line.
“To sum the game up in a nutshell: any time you go on the road and shoot 28 percent for the game and still win, you just kind of survive and get the heck out of there,” Ostmeyer said.
Coming-The Warriors (7-2) began play at the Trojan Classic in Hillsboro Monday evening against Hesston, and then took on Belleville on Tuesday.
The outcome of those games will determine when the Warriors play on Saturday night. The fifth-place game will start at 4:30 p.m., the third-place game at 6 p.m. and the championship game at 7:30 p.m.