BY TAYLOR ELDRIDGE
(Updates at @teldridge24)
FINAL: #6 Kapaun 62, #3 Emporia 56
I hope you’re not considering this an “upset.” Emporia had a great season, 20-2, and has two great talents in Jackson Perez and Garin Vandiver. But what the Crusaders have is championship experience, and at this time of the year, that is invaluable. That is why I think Kapaun will win tomorrow night against Lansing. And that is why I think the Crusaders can make up another talent gap between them and SM South to defend their championship. But let’s dive in to how this game was won.
The first key was the pace of the game. Like I said before it started, Kapaun had to hold Emporia to somewhere in the 50′s. Mission accomplished. It was only the second time all season a team has held Emporia to under 60 points, so that is a seriously impressive statistic for the Kapaun defense. Braden Hullings was spectacular on both ends of the night. While Toby Baxter and his steady touch on floaters and 23 points probably won the MVP honors on offense, Hullings has to take home the overall MVP because of his defense on Jackson Perez (11 for 24, 24 points) and his 18 points to go along with it.
Another key was the execution down the stretch. I know Baxter has pulled out a few clutch shots to win games this season, but Kapaun has actually struggled in close ball games during the regular season. Before games became do-or-die, the Crusaders were 2-3 in games decided by 5 points or less. Now they’ve won 3 in a row by two possessions or less and it’s because they’re executing down the stretch of ball games. With the score tied at 52 with 2:50 remaining, the next three possessions decided the game. Here’s the stretch:
Kapaun: Jeremy Lickteig scores on an offensive put-back for a 54-52 lead, 2:18 remaining
Emporia: Jackson Perez forced jumper missed; Lickteig rebounds, 2:00 remaining
Kapaun: Toby Baxter drives and is fouled; 2 of 2 from the line for a 56-52 lead, 1:51 remaining
Emporia: Perez gets the ball poked out from behind by Baxter for a steal, 1:38 remaining
Kapaun: Baxter is fouled again and again makes 2 from the stripe for a 58-52 lead, 1:25 remaining
Emporia: Perez drives the right side of the lane and Kapaun’s Damien Akao slides over to take the charge, 1:18 remaining
As you can see, Kapaun made 4 consecutive winning plays: Baxter’s free throws, Baxter’s steal and Akao’s charge taken. That wasn’t happening during the season, but now it is and you have to credit coach John Cherne and his staff for preparing the Crusaders to peak at the right time – again. Until someone can knock off the Crusaders, they’re still the state champions. And if they can play like they did on Thursday, Kapaun might be putting the whole state on another Championship Crusade watch.