Bluejay men earn spot in finals of post-season tourney

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
It’s always heart warming when good things happen to good people.

Tabor College’s 64-61 win over Sterling College in Saturday’s semifinals game in the KCAC post-season tournament left the Bluejay faithful feeling warm and fuzzy inside for Tabor’s passionate coach, Don Brubacher.

Struggling to find the right combination throughout the season, and enduring a five-game losing streak in the KCAC, Brubacher and his team looked like they were having fun again.

“I’m just so proud of these kids,” Brubacher said. “You look at that just bitter stretch we had with five straight losses, most teams would have folded up on the season.

“I told the guys at the end of that stretch how proud I was that even though we were still losing, they were still trying,” he added. “We’ve been fortunate to get some wins, but you just can’t say enough about the effort our guys are giving.”

Already owners of a win over the Warriors in early December in Sterling, Tabor was never intimidated on Saturday. Although the contest was tied five times in the first 18 minutes, the Warriors never led and trailed by four at 24-20 with 1:56 left in the first half.

But the wheels came off Tabor’s victory wagon momentarily when the Warriors scored nine straight points in a 1:12 stretch.

Only a free throw by Matt Nelson with less than a second left on the clock stopped the scoring run-but not before the Warriors had taken a 29-25 lead at halftime.

Still, Brubacher was pleased with his team’s first-half effort.

“I told them at halftime that we really played extremely well defensively for the first 18 minutes of the game, but really struggled for the final couple of minutes,” he said.

“But I assured them I thought we had the ability to hold (Sterling) on our defensive end and we just made a couple of offensive adjustments.”

The adjustments centered on looking for opportunities to get the ball to the rack. Slicing through the Warrior defense like a Ginsu knife, Tabor took shot after shot inside the paint, which translated into 11-for-17 shooting in the final 20 minutes.

“We emphasized that everyone on the court needed to be alert to offensive opportunities,” Brubacher said. “Sterling plays help defense so aggressively that you can lose your defender with cuts into the lane.

“Their defensive focus is on Brad (Gattis) and they’re never going to lose him. But when they rotate to help on him, that gave other guys the ability to find space. We did a great job with that in the second half. Pat (Miller) had several nice flashes to the basket.”

The result was a tightly contested affair. When Kyle Mendenhall scored with 6:41 to play, the game was tied at 48-the 10th tie of the game.

But as it did two days earlier in Lindsborg, the stretch run belonged to Grant Brubacher. The heady senior milked the shot clock and game clock and reacquainted himself with what’s become his best friend lately: the free-throw line. Two charities with 3:39 left gave Tabor its largest lead of the night, 58-51.

Although the Warriors never went away, their only defense was to send Tabor to the foul line, where brothers Grant and Andy Brubacher made them pay. They scored Tabor’s final eight points from the line. Grant connected on 11 of 12 for the game.

A pair from Grant with 19 seconds left and a pair from Andy with 12 seconds sealed the three-point win.

Gattis led Tabor with 18, Grant Brubacher added 17 and Andy Brubacher 10 as Tabor improved to 15-14 for the season while Sterling fell to 16-14.

Tabor made 18 of 38 shots from the field (47 percent) while Sterling was 23 for 59 (39 percent), including five of 26 (19 percent) from the 3-point line.

Tabor converted 24 of 27 free throws while Sterling made 10 of 15.

Quarterfinals-Like a fine tea in China, the Bethany Swedes got “Bru’d” Thursday night in Lindsborg as Grant Brubacher led a spirited team effort for a 78-72 victory.

Brubacher sliced and diced Bethany’s defense for 25 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out a pair of assists.

“When he can get past the hands holding him, he can be pretty effective running with it-but that’s just KCAC basketball,” coach Don Brubacher said.

“The court got spread a few times tonight and he had a chance to run with it because we were moving better off the ball and that gave him some room in the lane. It’s never all him when he runs to the basket.”

Austan Wyatt’s 3-point basket 45 seconds into the game staked Bethany to its largest lead of the night. Field goals by Matt Nelson and Matt Miller pushed the Bluejays on top 4-3 and they never trailed again.

Tabor made five of 15 3-point baskets in the opening 20 minutes in addition to 9-for-9 shooting from the free-throw line to build a lead as large as 13 points before settling for a 40-30 margin at intermission.

“It always helps to get off to a good start,” Brubacher said. “We shot the ball really well early in the game, but we shot it really poorly the rest of the game.”

Tabor shot well early in the second half to use an 8-2 run to build a 48-32 advantage with 17:02 to play.

But the Swedes began a methodical comeback over the next 11 minutes, eventually slicing the lead 56-52 with 6:14 to play and with possession of the basketball.

But Nelson stripped the ball from Anthony Javey. Andy Brubacher retrieved it and hit a streaking Grant Brubacher for two points and a six-point lead.

Moments later, Brubacher milked the shot clock before hitting Tyler Weinbrenner, who drained a long 3-pointer to push Tabor’s lead to 61-52 with 4:58 left. The Swedes never got closer than the final six-point margin.

Defensively, Tabor counteracted Bethany’s massive 6-foot-8 Daniel Sherman by employing a helping zone defense.

“That zone helped us a lot to limit him,” Brubacher said. “When we did give up the inside game, it was because we broke down tactically.

“Sherman is tough to guard but our perseverance on the defensive end allowed us to hang on to the lead.”

Down the stretch it was the Bluejays’ ability to make free throws that enabled the win. Tabor made 20 of 21 attempts, including many in the waning moments.

“We got almost all our free throws late and we hit them when the pressure was on,” Brubacher said. “Our guys really stepped up.”

In addition to Brubacher’s game-high 25 points, Pat Miller added 16 and Tyler Weinbrenner 13 as Tabor connected on 40 percent from the field (24-60).

Sherman and Mike Melcher led Bethany with 12 points each as the Swedes made 24 of 55 from the field (44 percent) and a respectable 18 of 23 from the line.

Brubacher said he didn’t think Tabor’s sixth seed prompted the Swedes to over look his team.

“I hate to lose as much one time or another,” he said. “But I don’t think that removed any of our own pressure because we have eight seniors who are playing for the chance to keep playing.”

With the victory, Tabor evened its season record at 14-14 while Bethany packs its bags for the year at 17-13.

Coming-Tabor was scheduled to face off Tuesday night against nationally ranked Southwestern, the regular season champions, for the post-season tournament title. A Bluejay victory would give Tabor a berth in the national tournament.


Gattis, Brubacher named All-KCAC

Tabor College senior Brad Gattis was named to the first team All-Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference team announced over the weekend.

Gattis, a forward from Hesston, was a unanimous selection.

Also earning recognition was Hillsboro senior guard Grant Brubacher, who was named to the second team. Brubacher also earned a spot on the All-Defensive team.

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