TOPEKA Schlagle scored only three points in the first quarter and trailed by 12 in the second quarter. But the Stallions never showed signs of panic.
By keeping their poise, the Stallions overcame the slow start and knocked off Wichita Heights 50-39 Friday evening in a Kansas Class 5A boys’ semifinal at the Kansas Expocentre.
“One thing I told them was to continue to play defense, continue to get stops and continue to get rebounds,” said Schlagle coach Prentes Potts. “If you do all those things, you will be fine.”
Potts’ advice worked. Schlagle, the seventh seed, will play for the Kansas 5A state title at 6:15 p.m. Saturday. Schlagle will play No. 4 seed Shawnee Heights, who knocked off top-seeded Goddard Eisenhower 57-55 in overtime in Friday night’s other semifinal.
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It is an impressive run for Schlagle, which is in its first state tournament since 2000. Schlagle’s last state title came in 1995.
“It is just a lot of tears,” said Schlagle senior Malik Cushon about making the championship game. “I am so happy. I just listen to my coaches and my teammates. We all just love each other. We are just trying to get a ring.”
The Stallions completely dominated the fourth quarter, outscoring Wichita Heights 21-3. The Stallions entered the final quarter trailing 36-29.
The first tie of the game came with 4 minutes, 37 seconds left when Cushon made two free throws. The Stallions took the lead 40-39 on a basket by Cushon with 3:07 remaining.
“My teammates were looking for me, and I was trying to get open the best way I could,” Cushon said.
As it turned out, Schlagle scored the final 12 points of the game for the win. Cushon played an important role in the victory, scoring 20 points and pulling down 17 rebounds. He went 7 for 8 from the field and 5 for 6 from the free-throw line.
“We have been waiting for him to give us a game like that,” Potts said. “He had glimpses when he had 13 and 10. Tonight, he had 20 and 17, That is amazing.”
Schlagle needed nearly the entire first half to get revved up. The Stallions finally found that gear in the last two minutes of the second quarter, scoring the final eight points to go into halftime down 22-18.
The deficit could have been much worse for Schlagle. The Stallions’ only points in the first quarter came on three free throws.
Trailing 10-3 entering the second quarter, Schlagle continued to struggle on offense. Meanwhile junior Devin Davis got hot for Wichita Heights. His 11 points staked the Falcons to a 22-10 lead.
But the Stallions went into halftime with momentum on their side, especially when sophomore D’Monte Gaw drilled a long three-pointer at the halftime buzzer.