To put it mildly, the Rock Creek boys’ basketball team has a had a banner season.
They finished the regular season 16-4 and ended with a sub-state win over arch-rival Riley County.
Oh, and that win over the Falcons? It was for a ticket to state.
For the first time since making back-to-back trips in 1993 and 1994, Rock Creek is back in the Class 3A state tournament.
The Mustangs will open the tournament tonight at 8:15 p.m. against Moundridge in Hutchinson. Rock Creek (19-4) is seeded fifth, while Moundridge (20-3) is the No. 4 seed.
“We’re ready to go,” head coach Jim Johnston said. “I’ve been here nine years and we’ve been close a couple times… so it’s big. It’s big for our program. Our kids have worked extremely hard and we’ve have had kids who have worked hard before, but we just got beat by better teams.
“This group of kids have been playing together since seventh grade, worked hard, done what’s right and took care of things in the classroom. They’re very deserving and we’re all excited for them.”
Johnston said the ticket-punching moment when the scoreboard expired with Rock Creek outlasting Riley County 64-59 to win sub-state was an emotional one for his team.
“It was very emotional when the clock hit zeros,” he said. “We were pinned down, but the kids made plays down the stretch on both the offensive and defensive end and it was very emotional and there was a lot of excitement. We had some kids with tears in their eyes and they knew their hard work had paid off.
“It was a joy because they knew they had accomplished something that hadn’t been accomplished at Rock Creek in 18 years.”
The roster runs deep for the Mustangs, with a rotation that often goes 11 deep and is anchored by seven seniors. No one for Rock Creek averages more than 10 points per game. Four players average eight points per game and six players average five points a game.
“We’ve got a lot of depth,” Johnston said. “We’ve rotated five at a time for a lot of games over the year and what makes it so special is that all of them are ‘in’, so to speak.
“They’ve made personal sacrifices and they are all in it for the team first. We’ve had a couple kids who could have broke school records, but they don’t care, they play as a team. They’d rather win.”
Still, the Mustangs have leaders the team looks to.
Junior Jacob Miller – who is a big presence at 6-foot-5 – managed to be a teammate and still break a school record in rebounds and 6-foot-3 senior Aaron Kuecker leads the team in scoring with 9.4 points per game. K.J. Dobbins, another senior, is second in scoring with 8.7 points per game and Miller adds eight points per game.
Senior Logan Miner — who had a very productive football season as the team’s running back — is one of the team’s top defenders and is also one of the many players that put in five points a game.
Johnston said the strength of this team is the diverse scoring options.
“If (the opponent) wants to take something away from us, they give up something else,” he said. “Our kids are really good at finding the open person and knowing what’s going to be there if (the other team) takes something away.
“That’s the beauty of it. They’re not selfish, not going to take selfish shots and are going to find the open person.”
Johnston’s son, Dillon, is one of the leading seniors on the team and said the fact they also get to go to state as father and son is rewarding.
“It’s very special,” Jim said. “He was a year old when I began teaching and coaching at Blue Valley and he would come to practice with me and take his blanket and sit on the floor or watch in the bleachers. He’s been there every step of the way and he understands the game of basketball and wants to be a coach and teacher some day, and he’ll be a good one.
“I couldn’t be prouder, but I’m proud of all the other (players) just as much.”