With a 62-51 win over Seaman on senior night just a few minutes from completion, it was time for Manhattan High’s Alex Stitt to leave the court one last time.
Before coming out of the game to a roar of applause from the crowd, Stitt dropped to the ground and gave a Jacob Pullen-esque kiss to the hardwood.
“We’re all big Jacob Pullen fans, so I had to do it like my idol,” Stitt said of his exit. “And I think the crowd liked it.”
The crowd was also enthused by Stitt’s solid game, which included 13 points and a two-possession sequence late in the fourth quarter that put the game away. The lone remaining senior for the Indians hit a pair of free throws and got a steal and a breakaway layup to put MHS up 54-47 with less than two minutes to play.
Prior to that, Seaman (8-11, 7-6 Centennial), which trailed by double digits for most of the second half, put together an 8-0 run, mostly from the free-throw line, to pull within three points at 50-47 before Stitt’s big baskets.
“That’s the easiest way, and run-outs are easy points,” Stitt said of his steal and layup. “We just want to be a defensive minded team, and it worked out tonight.”
The win did more than just create momentum heading to the postseason. The Indians also secured home-court advantage for the sub-state opener against Topeka High on Thursday. The Indians beat the Trojans earlier in the year to give them the tiebreaker after Lawrence Free State lost.
“It’s always good to play at home, especially when you have an environment like we did tonight,” co-interim coach Shane Sieben said. “It’s a fun environment to play in and anytime you’re at home, you’re just more comfortable. Playing in the Dungeon or at Free State either way would be tough. You want to make things as easy on yourself as you can.”
Manhattan (12-8, 7-6) led by double digits much of the second half, thanks to a strong start to the third quarter. The Indians led by five at halftime, but opened with a 10-2 run capped by Garrett Francis’ 3-pointer to force a Viking timeout.
They retained that lead the rest of the way, despite Seaman’s rally attempt late in the game.
Gabe Awbrey scored a game-high 18 points for the Indians, with Stitt chipping in 13. Awbrey, who has been more of a 3-point threat for Manhattan most of this season, was especially effective off the dribble for the second straight game.
“We played as a team tonight and got great effort from everybody,” Sieben said. “Gabe Awbrey played an outstanding game.”
Seaman was led by Reid Morgart’s 17 points.
Sieben said Stitt, who was recognized between games during the senior night ceremony, has grown as a leader during his time in the Manhattan program.
“Alex has been outstanding throughout his career, and especially this year as a senior, he’s really developed as a leader,” Sieben said. “He was great tonight. He really guarded — a lot of people look at points and all of that, but what he does is get us a ton of assists and get us in our offense, and he really guarded well tonight. He just does so much.”
As well as Stitt played, he almost had to sit out, which would have created a more dire depth issue.
“I’ve been battling the flu the last couple days, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to go or not, but I’m glad I did,” Stitt said. “It was an unbelievable experience — I’ll never forget it.”
Early in the game, Manhattan went back and forth with the Vikings before leading by as many as eight in the second quarter. They also went to the locker room riding high after an Awbrey 3-pointer at the buzzer staked them to a 27-22 lead.
With the regular season over, the Indians now have to try and find a way to beat Topeka High, which beat Hayden Friday night 55-43.
Manhattan hosts Topeka High at 7 p.m. on Thursday.