Chieftian rally downs Lansing boys
David Walker couldn't decide Friday night whether he was in Kansas or Indiana for the Tonganoxie-Lansing boys game.
"I told the kids it kind of felt like being in Hickory," the THS coach said, referring to the fictitious town where the movie "Hoosiers" was set. "It's fun to be in a gymnasium like that.
"The band was rockin'. The fans were in it. It was a fun environment. It's what high school athletics is all about."
The Tonganoxie Invitational Tournament semifinal game between the arch rivals probably left a few other people at the gymnasium a tad delirious as well.
With the stands nearly filled to the brim in the aged arena, fans watched as the longtime foes faced off.
The teams were neck-and-neck early before Lansing pushed its way to a 17-11 lead heading into the second quarter.
Fans on the west side of the gym -- most pledging allegiance to the Lions -- made their presence most known when Lansing sported a commanding 17-point lead with a 29-12 advantage.
It was a hefty deficit to overcome, but Tonganoxie would not break.
Tonganoxie assembled a 15-3 run and trailed, 32-27, at the half.
In the third quarter, the Chieftains were as close as three and trailed by as many as eight, but each team scored 18 in the third.
Then came Tonganoxie's best quarter this season.
Tonganoxie's press, which came to life against Metro, had some success through the first three quarters against Lansing, but the defense -- and the hometown crowd -- reached a higher notch in the fourth.
Trailing 52-45, senior Luke McCarty dropped in a bucket and the Chieftains cut the deficit to five.
The improved Tonganoxie defense then forced a turnover and senior Derek Sparks hit a three.
Now trailing by two, Rodell -- after another Lansing turnover -- dropped in two of his team-high 19 and the Kaw Valley League foes were tied at 52.
The rambunctious crowd then watched as Billy Baska forced another Lansing turnover and moments later laid in another Tonganoxie score. At that point, the Chieftains had their first lead of the game.
The furious run, though was far from finished. Senior Shane Howard extended the lead to five at 57-52 with a three-point shot.
Tonganoxie's stifling defense and key shooting led to a 13-0 scoring barrage. Lansing senior Billy Morehead finally scored, but the Lions found themselves trailing, 60-54, late in the game. LHS standout Jeff Slater, who finished with 19, brought the Lions to within four, but Tonganoxie wouldn't let go of its lead and claimed an emotional 69-61 victory. Tonganoxie outscored LHS 24-11 in the final period.
Top-seeded Lansing had won five straight against Tonganoxie -- including two overtime victories last year -- coming into Friday's Tonganoxie Invitational.
The No. 5 Chieftains, meanwhile, found new life after defeating Metro Academy in the quarterfinals for their first victory in nearly a month.
Tonganoxie, which had three players in double figures with Rodell (19), Howard (14) and Sparks (13), suddenly had a brand new perspective on the season.
"Coach has really been on our butts about it," Rodell said about the Chieftains recent swoon. "He talked some sense into all of us."
For Sparks the key was patience.
"I know coach has told us to keep our intensity up and told us shots would fall and they started falling," Sparks said.
The Chieftains shot 51 percent (21-for-41) from in front of the arc and 33 percent from 3-point land (2-for-6).
THS also stepped to the line 34 times and made 21 of those attempts.
"The biggest thing is we're not panicking," Walker said Friday. "I think that sometimes it takes you longer to figure out what you're best at. We're finding our niche and finding what works for us."