Rock Creek gears up for state tournament game with Hayden

By Maria McIlwain

The five seniors on Rock Creek’s boys basketball team will close out their high school careers in the same way they have closed out each season — in the state tournament.

The Mustangs (18-4) have made appearances in the past four 4A state tournaments and five out of the last six.

“It’s very exciting,” head coach Jim Johnston said. “We graduated eight seniors last year, so it’s a new group of kids … it never gets boring.”

To get to the tournament, Rock Creek dismantled a 15-6 Holton team, 59-29, in the sub-state final on Saturday.

The Mustangs come into the state tournament a No. 3 seed and will face No. 6 seed Hayden at 4:45 p.m. on Thursday in Emporia.

The Wildcats are a familiar opponent to Johnston and Rock Creek, as they faced off in last year’s sub-state final.

“This year, they’re very talented,” Johnston said. “We’re going to have to be a disciplined team.”

Hayden finished 14-5 overall and took fourth place in the Centennial League with a 9-4 record in league play, making it to the state tournament with a 73-43 win over Osawatomie on Saturday. The Wildcats got 25 points by Zach Harvey in the sub-state final.

Johnston said rebounding and taking care of the ball will be imperative against Hayden.

Rock Creek was tied atop the Mid-East League with Silver Lake and St. Marys with a 7-3 league record but had the most wins of the three teams. The Mustangs are led in scoring by 6-foot-3 junior Martin Vogts who averages 23 points per game. He also leads on the boards, pulling down seven rebounds per game. Fellow junior Carson Zenger also averages in double figures, recording 10 points per game. Johnston likes how his team spreads around the scoring.

“We have a lot of kids who are able to score,” he said. “We have adjusted to our roles.”

However, Johnston said some of the biggest contributions aren’t seen on a stat line. He praised his team’s defense over the past few games, especially that of seniors Cooper Schlochtermeier and Avery Ebert.

“We stepped up defensively, and everybody was doing their job,” Johnston said. “And when we play like that, we’re a very good team.”

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