“Ecstatic! Awesome!” were the expressions used by Goessel High School players in the locker room Thursday after their first-round victory in the 1A state tournament.
The Bluebirds knocked off the team from Thunder Ridge High School, 49-45.
Did Goessel feel like “giant killers” defeating a team that was 25-0?
“We prepared well for this game. No, we really don’t feel like giant killers,” said GHS head coach Justin Coup. “We really felt like we matched up well, and we had a great fourth quarter, offensively and defensively.”
The Bluebirds began the game with a 7-0 run and forced the Longhorns into an early timeout.
Goessel led at the first quarter break, 15-9, and a long three-pointer from Travis Fensky gave the Bluebirds their biggest lead at 18-9 early in the second period.
The Longhorns found some rhythm and tied the game at 22 with 1:12 left in the second quarter.
Thunder Ridge scored once more before half, giving the upper-seed a 24-22 lead going into the break.
In the second half, Goessel players battled hard to stay close.
Thunder Ridge opened leads of four and five points in the third period, only to see the Bluebirds close the gap.
The Longhorns hit a three-pointer just before the third-quarter buzzer, giving them a 40-35 lead.
To the delight of the Goessel faithful, the Bluebirds scored nine straight points to open the fourth quarter.
Weston Hiebert finished an assist with a layup. Hiebert then snagged an offensive rebound and put the ball back in the basket.
Kendall Voth hit a three-pointer from the left corner that bounced high off the rim and dropped straight through the basket, and the Bluebirds led 42-40 with 5:34 to play.
Hiebert stole a pass, controlled the dribble, and went the distance for a layup.
Thunder Ridge knocked in a three-pointer to cut Goessel’s lead to one point, 44-43, with 2:31 to play.
With Craig Banman rushing the ball down the floor, the Longhorn defense was on its heels.
Banman found a wide-open Hiebert under the bucket for another easy basket, but Thunder Ridge answered with a basket at the other end.
The Bluebirds had the ball out of bounds under its own basket with less than 30 seconds to play, hoping to control the clock and win at the free-throw line.
However, the Longhorns were confused on an inbounds play, and Hiebert found himself wide open for another basket giving the Bluebirds a 48-45 lead.
The Longhorns began driving to the basket and their point guard went to the free-throw line with 14 seconds left in the game.
Two misses forced Thunder Ridge to foul, and Austin Unruh went to the line with a chance to increase the Bluebird’s three-point lead with only 11 seconds on the clock.
The first free throw hit the front of the rim and crawled in. The second missed and the Longhorns were unable to score, giving the Bluebirds the first-round victory.
“Some of their bigger players got into foul trouble,” Voth said, “and that kind of changed how aggressive they could be on defense.”
Leading the way for the Bluebirds was Hiebert with a season-high 18 points and three steals.
Unruh followed with 11 points, Banman scored nine, Niko Herman dropped in five, while Fensky and Voth each hit a three pointer.
Hanover 62, Goessel 38
Another undefeated team matched-up with the Bluebirds Friday night in semifinal action.
The talented 26-0 Hanover Wildcats gradually built a 14-6 first quarter lead.
The Bluebirds could not get baskets to fall as they connected on only four field goals in the first half, and trailed 30-17 at the break.
Outside shooting for the Bluebirds disappeared completely in the second half, as Goessel missed all 10 three-point attempts.
The Bluebirds were out rebounded 41-27 in the loss.
The 62-38 loss sent them to Saturday’s consolation game.
Hanover would go on to win the championship.
Banman led the Bluebirds in scoring with 12 points, and Unruh followed with nine points and 16 rebounds.
Hiebert dropped in five points, Voth and Fensky each had four, Aaron Reimer banked in two points, and Corey Buller made two free throws.
Centralia 69, Goessel 63
Goessel stayed close in the first quarter Saturday with Fensky and Herman each hitting a three-pointer to tie the game at 10 in the first quarter.
However, Centralia hit four three-pointers in the second period, and pushed its lead to 34-24 by halftime.
The Bluebirds knew they needed to play better defense on the perimeter and hit some shots from long range if they were going to catch up.
“We didn’t have the energy to play aggressive man-to-man defense for four quarters, since this was the third game in three days,” Coup said. “But we used some bench players to help us with a trapping defense in the second half.”
The Bluebirds missed three, three-point attempts as the half began and the Wildcats built a lead of 44-29 with five minutes left in the third quarter.
Fensky, Voth, and Banman tried to harass the ball handlers while Hiebert and Unruh covered the lane on defense.
The strategy began to work, as Voth hit a three pointer, Banman scored five straight points on drives to the basket, Herman hit a three-pointer, and Fensky dropped in a field goal.
When Unruh hit one of two free throws the Bluebirds trailed only 47-43 with less than two minutes to play in the third quarter.
During this comeback, Isaac Fast and Chad Wedel, two bench players, trapped the Wildcats and disrupted their offense.
Unruh finished the quarter with four more points and Goessel trailed 51-47 at the end of three.
The Wildcats scored first in the fourth period, but Voth banked a field goal off the glass and Wedel came up with a steal to go all the way for a layup, keeping the Bluebirds within four points.
When Centralia started missing from the free-throw line, baskets by Hiebert, Unruh, and Banman gave Goessel a 57-56 lead with 4:42 left in the game.
A questionable out-of-bounds call on the Goessel sideline gave the ball back to the Wildcats and they went on a 6-0 run to grab a 62-57 lead.
However, the senior Banman was not finished.
He hit a pull-up jumper from 15 feet and then an explosive burst down the left side of the lane for a layup, and Goessel trailed by only one point, 62-61.
Centralia was able to connect on three of four free throws before Unruh drove the baseline under the bucket for a reverse layup keeping the Bluebirds within two points, 65-63.
Goessel was unable to score again, as the Wildcats made four more free throws to finish the game, 69-63.
Banman ended his high school career with 19 points and three assists.
Unruh scored 13 with 10 rebounds. Fensky scored eight points and Voth had seven points and three assists.
Herman and Hiebert ended the season with six points, and Reimer and Wedel with two points each.
The boys ended with a record of 21-7.
Five seniors played their final basketball game for the Bluebirds.
Banman, Unruh, Voth, and Fensky have played together since grade school. Herman, an exchange student from Poland joined the team this year.
“This is a senior class that has been leaders for a while,” Coup said. “Much of the (school’s) success in sports (football, basketball and track) for the last several years can be attributed to these guys.”