WAMEGO — T.J. Fritz couldn’t miss.
Then he couldn’t get a shot off.
Wamego’s senior guard, arguably the team’s best scorer, kicked off Friday night’s game against Abilene in nearly perfect fashion. He scored all 13 of his team’s first-quarter points. He shot 5-for-6.
But that changed entirely in the second half, when Abilene made defensive adjustments and held Fritz without a single field goal. He scored two points in the fourth quarter, both on free throws.
Abilene had its defense to thank for its 54-44 win over Wamego.
“(Abilene was) pressuring me harder, tighter defense,” Fritz said of the visitors’ adjustments. “They messed with my mind more than I should have let them. They just kind of got to me.”
Fritz hit a triple in the second half, but that was his final field goal of the contest. He went 0-for-7 the rest of the way.
The pressure, then, turned to his teammates. Junior Taybor Vetter tallied 10 points, including six in the third quarter, and senior Eli Wolfe added five in the fourth, but it wasn’t enough.
Yet Wamego wasn’t ever out of touch. The Red Raiders drew as close as 48-44 with 90 seconds to play on Wolfe’s two free throws, and they were almost always within striking distance, even after Abilene opened the third frame on a 9-2 run.
But it wasn’t easy for Wamego to come back. The third quarter, which Abilene won 13-10, hurt.
“We all kind of lost our composure, got separated from the game, weren’t focused on what was going on on the floor,” Wamego coach Troy Hemphill said. “When you’re not focused, it’s hard to get back in the flow.”
Once the Red Raiders did get back in the flow, though, it might have been too late.
Wamego opened the fourth frame on a 7-0 run, clawing to within 44-40 with a shade under five minutes to play. Abilene answered with four straight points, but Wamego kept at it and and added four of their own points at the free throw line.
The final two came from Wolfe. Those were the final points of the game for Wamego (6-11, 1-5 North Central Kansas League). Abilene responded with a 6-0 game-sealing run.
“We didn’t make our best run of the game without (Fritz),” Hemphill said. “Sometimes a different mixture of kids leads to different results. We subbed tonight and stuck with it for awhile because we got on a run. That’s really what happened.”
Ask Hemphill, and he’ll point to a couple of different parts of the game that cost his team.
The first came in the second half of the second quarter. Abilene closed the second frame on a 11-2 run. The Cowboys forced the Red Raiders into six second-quarter turnovers.
“That was atrocious,” Hemphill said.
The other part of the game Hemphill lamented arrived immediately after: the beginning of the third quarter. That’s when Abilene stretched its lead to 36-22.
“The first four possessions of the third quarter were equally bad,” Hemphill said. “We just have stretches where we don’t focus, we don’t execute, take silly shots. That tends to lead the other team scoring baskets and stretching it out on you.”
The beginning of the game, though, gave Wamego and its skipper reason to hope.
Fritz was the reason. He sank three 3-pointers in the first quarter alone, and by the last one, Wamego was sitting on a 13-12 lead. Only three other Red Raiders attempted field goals in the first.
It all changed once the second quarter began. The Cowboys face-guarded Fritz. He had a hard time even getting touches.
“I need to move more on offense,” Fritz said, “and help more by going off screens and setting screens to get more open. That’s on me for not getting open and helping my team.”
Wamego will have three days to sit on this loss before hitting the road on Tuesday to face Clay Center. That might mean continuing to develop the relatively inexperienced roster, which Hemphill said after the game he thought would have gelled by now.
Whatever it means, the Red Raiders don’t have long to crack the code.
Another game awaits.
“You’ve got to play 32 minutes,” Hemphill said. “We just haven’t done that. I don’t think, in 17 games, we’ve had a complete game yet. That’s probably why we’re 6-11.”
Totals: 16-45 FG, 14-23 FT, 54 points
Damian Hartman 1-5 1-2 4, Wyatt Davis 1-1 0-0 3, Avery Bryson 0-1 2-2 2, Timothy Barbieri 2-6 4-5 10, Travis Beetch 3-8 1-2 8, James Mayden 1-4 6-6 9, Colton McVan 0-1 0-0 0, Kaleb Becker 5-7 1-2 11, Preston Boyd 3-6 1-4 7
Totals: 17-44 FG, 5-8 FT, 44 points
Ty Cooper 0-3 0-0 0, Taybor Vetter 5-14 0-0 10, T.J. Fritz 6-14 2-2 18, Eli Wolfe 2-5 0-0 5, Tanner Hecht 1-4 1-3 3, Marcquiece Cade 2-3 2-3 6, Brad Sackrider 1-1 0-0 2
Three-point field goals: Abilene 4 (Hartman, Davis, Beetch, Mayden), Wamego 5 (Fritz 4, Wolfe). Fouled out: None. Turnovers: Abilene 17, Wamego 15.