In its first trip to the Kansas state basketball tournament since 2000, Schlagle made its presence felt when it beat No. 2 seed Salina Central 56-53 in the Class 5A quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka.
Schlagle used a 7-0 run to pull away in the fourth quarter, then held on by connecting on 13 free throws in the final three minutes and held Salina Central (20-3) to its fourth-lowest scoring output this season.
Schlagle (17-6) will play Wichita Heights in the semifinals on Friday at 4:45 p.m. Wichita Heights beat Pittsburg 72-65 in a quarterfinal on Thursday.
“Our program hasn’t been where it normally is and for some reason these guys have bought into what I’ve been telling them to do, and it’s starting to click,” Schlagle coach Prentes Potts said. “This is huge for our district and huge for our league. Anytime a USD 500 team can get here and make some noise, it’s a big deal.”
Tyon Grant-Foster, who finished with a team-high 16 points, kicked off the game-changing run with 4:02 left in the fourth on a pull-up jumper followed by five straight free throws to push Schlagle’s lead to 48-42 with 2:15 to play.
Schlagle initially did well at the free-throw line, making six straight, but allowed Salina Central to stick around by missing seven of its next eight.
It nearly cost Schlagle the victory. Down 54-53 with under 20 seconds left, Salina Central had three shots on its final possession — a wide-open look from Brayden Neuschafer (game-high 19 points) beyond the arc and two shots at the rim — but could not convert.
Schlagle’s Ronnell Mitchell (11 points) made two free throws with 0.8 seconds left, and Salina Central’s fullcourt heave was off the mark.
“I just love the mental toughness my guys had,” Potts said. “I read somewhere that said we’ve only beaten one team with a winning record, but it’s hard to judge a team and their character when you haven’t seen it. We’ve won games all different ways this season, and I knew my guys would be ready for this.”
Nearly half of Salina Central’s offense during the regular season came from beyond the arc. On Thursday, Central shot 34.6 percent from the field and 30 percent (9 of 30) on three-pointers.
Potts pointed to this statistic after the game as the game-winning one for Schlagle, which took a step toward winning its first championship since 1995.
“I told my guys, ‘Believe this, if they shoot it 50 times 25 of them are going to be threes,’” Potts said. “They have some kids that can flat-out shoot it, but I thought our pressure kind of wore on them. I’m just really proud of the kids.”
▪ St. Thomas Aquinas, the No. 5 seed, lost to fourth-seeded Shawnee Heights 57-52 on Thursday night.
Shawnee Heights (20-3) will face Goddard Eisenhower in a semifinal on Friday.
Aquinas ends its season with a record of 18-5.