Chris Hudgins insists he and his teammates don’t work much on a play they call “home run.”
It certainly looked like it Wednesday night, as Hudgins’ layup in the final seconds from a deep inbounds pass by Alex Stitt ensured the Indians would advance past Washburn Rural and into Friday’s sub-state final at Derby.
“Actually, coach drew it up at the McPherson tournament to win the game,” Hudgins said. “Since then, we’ve just called it ‘home run.’ We don’t really work on it, it just happens. I love that kind of situation. It’s nervewrecking, yes, but I’m always ready.”
The Manhattan Indians needed overtime to do it, but avenged a January loss to Rural and earned a trip to the sub-state final against top-seeded Derby with a 45-42 win. Tipoff for that game is set for 7 p.m. in Derby.
In overtime, the Indians led 43-40 with 8.6 seconds to play, and chose to intentionally foul 6-foot-7 post Reed Rowell on the inbounds play. The senior made both his free throws, but Stitt’s long inbounds pass to Hudgins on the ensuing play connected as the senior finished with a tough layup to put the Indians back up by three and use up most of the remaining clock.
Rural’s heave at the buzzer from beyond halfcourt fell short to secure the win for the Indians.
“We had great effort from a lot of kids,” MHS coach Tim Brooks said. “Though we weren’t always smart all the time, we found a way to get it done. We had some guys step up that we don’t normally see things out of, but that’s why it’s called a team. We’ve got 10 guys that played tonight, and all of them gave us all they had.”
After trailing much of the fourth quarter, the Indians nearly won in regulation, as they got back-to-back steals to tie the game at the 3:38 mark. After each team traded turnovers, Manhattan’s Jacob Holloway knocked down a 3-pointer with 24 seconds to play to give the Indians their first lead since early in the third quarter.
But Rural (10-11) wasn’t done.
They quickly brought the ball up the court and got the ball to a wide-open Chaise James, who connected on a 3 to tie the game with 8.8 seconds to play. Manhattan wasn’t able to get a shot up, turning the ball over as time expired.
Junior Bret Fehr was one of the main catalysts for the Indians’ comeback, as he got a steal and a breakaway layup when he came in off the bench with plenty of energy. He also had a bucket on the baseline in the closing minutes, driving right past his defender for a layup.
“I just tried to bring out as much energy as I could because we looked kind of dead,” Fehr said. “I wanted to liven things up and get everybody else going.”
Brooks said Fehr’s play, despite limited minutes, was instrumental in the win.
“He’s very capable and he’s given us a lot all year long, even though his number hasn’t been called as much as I’m sure he’d like,” Brooks said. “He’s a complete team player, and he’s out there to make everybody and himself better everyday. It’s good to see good things happen to good kids.”
Once the game got to overtime, Hudgins took over. The senior scored six of his team’s seven overtime points, despite spending much of the night with his hands full defending Rowell.
“It feels great, because early in the season, we did lose to this team and that was huge motivation coming into this game,” Hudgins said. “It was great to beat them.”
Hudgins led Manhattan with 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting, while knocking down all six of his free-throw attempts. Jacob Holloway hit two 3s and finished with six points, while the rest of the Indians put forth a balanced scoring effort, with no one else scoring more than four.
Rowell led Rural with 12 points, while James added 11. Riley Landuyt, who led the Junior Blues in the first matchup, scored just seven points on 2-of-6 shooting.
The Indians shot 17 of 35 from the floor, but knocked down 9 of 11 free throws and didn’t miss until overtime. Rural was 10 of 17 from the charity stripe.
Manhattan’s 3-2 zone defense wreaked havoc on Rural in the first half, forcing 11 turnovers and some rushed shots by the Junior Blues. The Indians, on the other hand, struggled against Rural’s defense, which was primarily man-to-man, but mixed in some other zone looks.
After trading the lead back and forth in the first half, MHS took the lead in the second quarter as Rural turned the ball over four straight trips without getting a shot. But the Junior Blues were able to tie the game at 21 in the final minute before halftime on a transition jump shot by James.
The Junior Blues have struggled this year in the halfcourt set, but got three first-half baskets in transition to help fuel their offense. In the second half, the Indians stopped Rural from getting out and running, which helped keep the score low and in Manhattan’s favor.
“We talked about how it would be a battle,” Brooks said. “They won the battle the first time, but we want to win the war. This is the one that counted, which has been our message all week.”
With the win, they earn a trip to Derby on Friday with a state tournament berth on the line. Derby defeated Topeka High in the other semifinal Wednesday night, 55-52. The Panthers defeated MHS in the season opener for both teams on Nov. 30, 78-67.
But Derby was in control the whole way in that game, getting out to a 16-4 lead and leading 60-33 in the third quarter before the Indians outscored the Panthers 34-18 the rest of the way.
Derby having its hands full against Topeka High could be a good sign for Manhattan, but regardless of how the Panthers are playing lately, the Indians have improved by leaps and bounds since November.
“They’re awful good,” Brooks said of Derby. “I think that we’re better than we were in Game 1, so we’ll hop on the bus and give it our all.”
Hudgins said Brooks’ message to the team after the win was to keep working.
“He said just to get ready for our game on Friday,” Hudgins said. “A little bit of time, but a lot of work to do.”