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Savoring the moment

March 08, 2023 - 00:00
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Jackets make sure to enjoy chance to defend 4A crown

  • Savoring the moment
    ABOVE: Kingfisher senior Maddox Mecklenburg accepts the area championship trophy while his teammates await its arrival for a celebration. RIGHT: Drake Friesen pushes the ball up the floor while North Rock Creek coach Evan Smith watches in the background.
  • Savoring the moment

Even in this era of unreal expectations for Kingfisher High School boys basketball, Jared Reese won’t let some of the “smaller” accomplishments go uncelebrated.

That includes qualifying for the state tournament.

The Jackets did just that on Friday as they frustrated yet another high-quality offensive foe in defeating North Rock Creek 51-36 at Noble High School.

That gave KHS a Class 4A area championship and placed them in this week’s state tournament. The program is making its 16th appearance, including its seventh in a row.

Though qualifying for state may not be “new” to the program, it’s not taken for granted within it.

“Every team is different. You can say seven years in a row, but the kids on the court were in sixth grade when it started,” head coach Jared Reese said of the streak.

“They haven’t been seven in a row, so it’s always new. It’s always different for each group.”

One thing that isn’t different is Kingfisher’s defense.

The Cougars averaged 67 points a game entering the night, but didn’t score in double digits in any of the three quarters.

“On defense we wanted to keep them in front of us because they’re so explosive,” Reese said. “The few times we did try to run our trap, we ended up giving up points. But when we were sound, rebounded, stayed in front and made them hit hard shots, it was really good tonight.”

The explosiveness Reese mentioned was evident on both ends of the floor and the Cougars made it tough for Kingfisher to score as well.

The Jackets led just 8-6 through one quarter and it remained back-and-forth until about the midway point of the second.

That’s when Xavier Ridenour heated up and nailed a trio of 3-pointers as the Jackets opened up a 10-point lead.

It was - essentially - ballgame.

“Xavier was incredible tonight,” Reese said.

“When he hits two or three shots and is aggressive, it kind of makes it hard to run zone against us.”

The Jackets extended their lead in the third to 19 points.

Ridenour nailed another trey and had all of his gamehigh 21 points by the end of the quarter.

Drake Friesen added a 3-pointer in the third and scored 11.

Caden Kitchens, saddled with foul trouble in the first half, scored six of his eight points in the second half.

The Jackets also got seven points from Cash Slezickey.

As Kitchens had to take more time than normal on the bench, the team got a boost from Maddox Mecklenburg, who played for just the second time since tearing his ACL just over a month ago.

He made two appearances in the first half before his injured knee buckled on him while defending North Rock Creek’s Jordan Coody.

Still, Mecklenburg recovered from that long enough to stop Coody on the low post, then block his shot attempt.

Mecklenburg let coaches know he couldn’t continue and didn’t return to the game.

“I don’t know that he’s done. I just think he was done for tonight and that’s probably the way it’s going to be for him,” Reese said. “But if he is done tonight, I think he did everything he set out to do. With Caden in foul trouble, those minutes were so valuable.

“If that is the last time you see Maddox I think he will be very pleased with what he did tonight and how he contributed to us getting to the state tournament.”

It was Mecklenburg’s injury that raised reasons for concern when it happened in late January.

Still the Jackets have worked around it to put themselves in position to win a state championship for the fifth time since 2017.

“Every year is a new struggle,” Reese said. “This year we had a big injury about halfway through that probably changed some expectations, but we were able to just keep rolling.”

The Jackets are currently 23-3 with a seven-game win streak.

Coody and Devon Haney led the Cougars with nine points apiece.

North Rock Creek had just 24 points entering the fourth quarter when it hit three of its five total 3-pointers.

The 36 points was a season low. Reese said it could have been lower, but the Cougars connected on several tough shots.

“I bet there’s 15 of those points I was over there clapping with the shot they took and another eight of them were my fault for calling a trap at the wrong time, so it was probably even better,” Reese said.

North Rock Creek went on to beat Anadarko 65-56 on Saturday to also qualify for state.

Each of the top eightranked teams made it into this year’s field.

The Jackets would soon enough turn their attention to No. 7 Stilwell, their quarterfi nal opponent.

But first? “We’re going to enjoy this,” Reese said of reaching state. “We know it doesn’t happen every year, even though it feels like it has lately.

“We know how hard it is.”