Instead, coach Ryan Phifer’s squad handed St. Thomas Aquinas its only defeat thus far and downed Lawrence Free State before meeting Rockhurst in the Hy-Vee Shootout finale last Saturday.
BV North escaped with its third straight win, thanks to senior Matt McHugh’s basket over Hawklets forward Mike Jones with eight seconds remaining in a 47-46 victory.
Suddenly, the Mustangs look every bit like the team that won 21 games and finished third at the Kansas 6A state tournament last season.
“We’ve played several tough, tight games this year, but I like our senior leadership,” BV North coach Ryan Phifer said. “We have some guys who’ve played together a long time. They don’t quit, they don’t give up, and they’re very confident in those situations.”
If anything, the loss to Olathe East was a wake-up call, reminding the Mustangs that it’s the little things every game and in every situation that matter most.
“Watching that game, it was our game to win, but we had a lot of turnovers,” McHugh said. “We learned from it.”
If McHugh, who signed with Purdue University for baseball last month and is known more for his outside shot in basketball, decides to be a more versatile scorer and takes defenders to the block more as he did for his first career varsity game-winner, BV North becomes a very dangerous team.
Senior Scott Edwards, who scored 30 in a state tournament game last season, remains the No. 1 scoring option for the Mustangs, but with junior Jawan Emery’s continued emergence – he suffered a fractured hand and had the cast removed in late October – there’s more than one big-time option.
“Scott gets the team’s best defender every night, but we feel like we have multiple players who can score for us,” Phifer said. “That’s been our strength over the last few years. You can’t key on one player necessarily against us, because we have other guys who can step up.”
Emery carried BV North on his back for stretches against Rockhurst, including when he scored three straight buckets to erase a 34-30 deficit late in the third quarter.
Factor in the expected return of senior forward Cory Taubin, which should happen Thursday at Gardner Edgerton, and the sky might be the limit for the Mustangs when the calendar changes to 2013.
Saints girls off to fast start
It’s hard to find a girls’ basketball team with a more impressive early-season resume than St. Thomas Aquinas.
The Saints, 4-0, nearly tripled Shawnee Mission East, dispatched talented Olathe Northwest 64-47, survived an East Kansas League test against 3-1 Blue Valley North and crushed Lee’s Summit North during the Hy-Vee Shootout last weekend.
“It gives us confidence, but we know we still have to keep working hard to get where we ultimately want to go, which is state,” junior guard Tia Weledji said. “We’re on a good track right now, but we can’t let it get to our head.”
Of course, for Aquinas coach Rick Hetzel, the wins are mere icing on the cake. He’s thrilled, sure, but he’s more excited about the group he has this season than anything.
“I’m most pleased with the kids,” Hetzel said. “They’re just a lot of fun to be around. They’re fun to coach. It’s a great group of kids. That’s what I’m pleased with most. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The Saints, who were undefeated en route to the 2010-11 Kansas 5A state championship, had a 16-9 record and took third at the Kansas 5A state tournament last season, but that might have been a down year between unbeaten seasons.
Of course, that is getting a tad bit ahead of things.
Still, it’s not an unreasonable thing to consider even in a very tough East Kansas League, which includes six teams at 3-1 or better already .
“We have to keep focused and not let the wins get to us too much so we (don’t) get cocky or anything,” Weledji said. “If we keep working hard in practice and keep the team bonding going, working hard together every day, I think we’ll get better.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.