Santa Fe claims undisputed I-70 title
ALMA -- For the fifth season in a row, the February showdown between Santa Fe and Concordia held the I-70 Conference boys' championship in the balance.
That usually makes for taut contests, and Friday's tilt at Alma was no exception. For the fourth time during that span, the Chiefs came out on top, 57-52, to clinch a share of the crown. Santa Fe won the title outright for the first time since '98 on Saturday by defeating Crest Ridge, 64-51.
At no time during the game, until the close, did either the Chiefs or Orioles lead by more than three points. Senior Joe Michael scored six points and seniors Austin Rolf and Roger Feagan hit three-pointers during the first period, but Concordia held a 19-16 edge at the end of the frame on junior Drew Hinck's six points and bombs from seniors Jared Bredehoeft and Corey McGinnis.
Santa Fe scored six straight points to begin the second quarter, but the O's went on a 10-5 run -- senior Brian Eckhoff twice converting three-point plays by crashing the offensive glass -- to produce a 31-31 halftime tie.
"We've been trying a little half-court trap and falling back in the zone," noted Chiefs head coach Gary Littrell, whose squad gave up 10 second-chance points in the first half. "When we have to sub, we hadn't worked those kids in the 1-3-1 (alignment)."
Senior Daniel Boland, junior Jacob Moenkhoff and Rolf all connected from outside during the third quarter, during which Santa Fe settled for perimeter jumpers on nine of 16 shots.
"They do a great job in the 'triangle-and-two' keeping the ball away" from the posts, Littrell explained. "We started trying to work the ball under."
After Eckhoff's third goal of the half evened matters 18 seconds into the final frame, the Chiefs began banging the ball into the paint -- but missed a handful of point-blank shots. Finally, with two minutes to go, senior Josh Buford drove the baseline for a bucket -- but the Orioles took back the lead 20 seconds later on Bredehoeft's trey.
Michael sank a 12-footer with 1:28 left and Concordia turned the ball over twice. Boland made the front end of a one-and-one from the charity stripe and Michael followed the missed second shot with a fadeaway to make it 56-52 with 23 seconds remaining.
Eckhoff and Hinck came up empty on the next Orioles' possession, with Rolf intentionally fouled as he came away with the defensive board. His freebie with four seconds to go sealed the win.
"It was just our turn, maybe," Littrell remarked. "We made a couple of stops."
Eckhoff finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds for Concordia (14-9, 5-1 I-70), which had won six of its previous seven games. Michael's 16 points and 12 rebounds and ten points each from Rolf and Boland led Santa Fe. But could the Chiefs run the table on the league?
Yes, but it took a second-half surge against Crest Ridge. The Cougars scored the Courtwarming game's first seven points and led throughout the first half, until Michael scored late for a 28-28 tie at the break.
Michael made two baskets and set up Rolf for a breakaway as Santa Fe began the second half with a 6-0 surge. Back-to-back layups by junior Mike Shaw -- who wound up with 20 points -- trimmed the deficit to 46-45 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, but Rolf fired two bombs and Feagan and Michael each made a pair of charities in the final 2:07 to keep the Cougars (10-12, 2-4) at bay.
"We've been working on" free throws, long a sore spot for the Chiefs, Littrell said. "You couldn't tell it from our stats."
Michael's 23 points and 18 rebounds and 18 from Rolf topped Santa Fe (16-5, 7-0), playing without the services of talented freshman Clay Michael. The Chiefs have a pair of non-conference games during the final week of the regular season, hosting LaMonte on Tuesday, before heading into the District 16A Tournament as the No. 2 seed.
Is Santa Fe ready to make a run for its fifth playoff spot in seven years?
"We've got some things to work on," Littrell declared.