The seventh-seeded Marion boys gave second-seeded Council Grove all it could handle in Tuesday’s Class 3A sub-state quarterfinals but came up short, 50-43.
Whereas in the teams’ first meeting last month, Marion got sped up in a game that ended with a running clock and a 64-38 loss, this time, Marion controlled the game’s tempo and forced the Braves to play in the half court.
“We talked about doing things to slow them down, and we did a great job of it, too,” coach Randy Skiles said. “We didn’t give up many transition baskets. Our whole goal was to come out and compete and give ourselves a chance to win in the fourth quarter.”
The Warriors fell behind from the start, however, making two of 10 attempts in the first quarter and turning the ball over six times. Peyton Heidebrecht added three free-throws, and the quarter ended with the Braves in front, 16-8.
Council Grove took a double-digit lead, but the Warriors used a 9-3 run to close the gap to 21-17 when Zachary Stuchlik made his second three-pointer of the night. At halftime, Council Grove led, 27-21.
Each team scored 12 points in the third quarter. Stuchlik scored four points, and Sam Zinn nailed a buzzer-beating two-pointer to bring Marion within 39-33 at the final break.
The Warriors outscored Council Grove, 4-1, at the free-throw line in the first 3:12 to close the gap to 40-37 with 4:48 to play, but after that, the Braves made three baskets in a row, including a three-pointer that extended their lead back to 10, 47-37, less than a minute later.
Mason Pedersen made a basket and one of two free-throws to trim the margin to seven, but Marion made just one of its last five attempts from the field—a three-pointer by Evann Heidebrecht with 33 seconds left that brought it to the final, seven-point spread.
Skiles praised his teams’ rebounding effort on the defensive glass against a Brave team that attempted 61 shots for the game.
“We fought hard on the boards,” he said. “They took a lot of quick shots, which played into our hand because that gave us extra possessions and then we could run some more clock. We did everything we were supposed to do. We just came up a little short.”
Stuchlik led the Warriors with 12 points. For the game, Marion was 14-for-44 from the field (32 percent). Council Grove was 21-for-61 (34 percent). The Warriors made 12 of 16 free-throws attempted (75 percent).
Marion concludes the season with an overall record of 5-16.
In reflecting on his first season at the helm, Skiles said the Warriors played some of their best basketball at the end as they learned to play together as a team.
“It’s been a rollercoaster, but in the end, I felt like they’re coming around,” he said. “They finally got to where they trusted each other, and that’s what it was all about. At the beginning, they just wanted to play individual basketball. (I) just (tried) to show them the team concept, that everybody needs to get involved.
“Tonight, I think we played very good team basketball, rebounded the ball well. Nobody cared who got the credit (or) points. We were on the floor, hustling, diving. That’s what it’s all about. From Day 1 to right now, I’m real happy with what we’re doing. A lot of games I didn’t have fun, but I had fun tonight.”
Marion will play without seniors Nathan Baldwin, Peyton Heidebrecht and Mason Pedersen next season.
“They played well,” Skiles said. “They were stuck in some grooves about what they wanted to do early, but they finally came around and bought in to what I was trying to do. I’m going to miss all those kids.
“I’ve got a whole slew of kids coming back,” he said. “I think we’re going to be pretty decent next year.”