Smith: Seniors will remember sub-state finishes
Holton The great thing about postseason basketball is the glory and excitement that comes from a hard-fought, well-earned "W." The downside is the finality of the situation - win or go home.
Both ends of the spectrum were on display last week at Holton High, one of eight host sites for the Class 4A sub-state tournaments.
Going home is inevitably the hardest part. Especially for seniors.
Unfortunately for the boys and girls of Tonganoxie High, the playing careers of 11 Chieftains - six boys and five girls - came to an end in the sub-state bracket (coincidentally, both fell to host Holton).
Entering the postseason as a No. 6 seed, perhaps dreams of reaching state weren't as fathomable for the THS boys, but that didn't make the loss any easier to swallow. Keith Wentz-Hall said it was tough to end his career with the taste of a 76-58 defeat in his mouth.
"I won't forget about it," he said minutes after his final game. "Next year when basketball season comes around and I'm not playing it will be pretty sad."
Fellow senior Gabe Belobrajdic said the finality of the situation had yet to sink in, but he expected it would when he reflects on the season in days to come.
"It will hit me even harder that this really is it," he said.
Just one win away from a trip to Salina, the season-ending loss was even more devastating for the No. 2 Tonganoxie girls.
The Chieftains had destroyed Atchison, 75-28, and defeated Royal Valley, 58-49, to reach the Saturday sub-state showdown with Holton.
Although Tonganoxie trailed by double digits from the second quarter on, the Chieftains didn't quit in the 67-52 loss. If anything, they played with more fight in the second half with the end of their 18-4 campaign in sight.
It wasn't until the final minutes when the outcome was certain that they let go.
Coach Randy Kraft took seniors Cara Carlisle, Tracie Hileman, Liz Baska and Shannon Carlin out of the game to a standing ovation from the THS fans in the stands, and the girls, overcome with emotion, cried as they made their way to the bench for the last time as Chieftains.
While that was a nice moment for the team, it was trumped two days prior when Carlin instilled her will against Royal Valley in the fourth quarter.
Leading the Panthers by just four in the final period, Carlin scored 13 of her team's 15 points during a six-minute span, almost single-handedly placing her team in the sub-state finals. But she didn't come close to taking credit for the heroics.
"I really didn't feel pressure, honestly. Our team's real good about pulling through," she said. "We know in tight situations we have to make the smartest plays and I think we do most of the time. You can't go in there fretting, being scared that 'Oh my gosh, we're gonna lose.'"
If you're looking for a Holton highlight, look no further. In a potentially season-ending situation, the senior put her team on her back, refusing to go home just yet.
"My approach was to go in and play the game - play smart, do what needs to get done," Carlin said.
She did just that by extending the THS season two more days and giving the Chieftains the chance to play for a sub-state championship.