For the first time since 2001, the Salina Central boys basketball team is back in the state championship game.
Junior Harper Williams and senior Sam Shaffer combined for 29 points, the defense outrebounded the taller and more athletic Pittsburg squad, and the Mustangs are in the Class 5A state title contest following a 51-46 takedown of the second-seeded Purple Dragons at the Kansas Expocentre. Salina Central goes for its first state championship since the “Miracle Mustangs” of 1983 on Saturday when Central plays No. 4 Bishop Carroll.
To start, Pittsburg (20-4) was the aggressor, jumping out to a 5-0 cushion before SC’s first bucket at the 5:45 mark. Central used the three-ball to pull ahead, 9-8, with 2:40 remaining in the opening quarter. The Purple Dragons weren’t phased, forcing five turnovers, leading to an 11-11 tie after one.
Both teams traded punches in the second as the game stayed at a stalemate, 16-16, with 5:14 left in the opening half. The Mustangs created separation using a triple by junior Brogen Richardson, pushing SC ahead 21-16. Pitt cut the margin to one, but Central junior Mark Grammer nailed a trey before the buzzer, giving the Mustangs a 26-21 halftime advantage.
Pittsburg opened the third with two quick buckets by senior Marque English, who had seven of his game-high 22 points in the frame. That wasn’t enough, as Central was hanging on by a thread, leading 35-33 through three periods.
The Purple Dragons grabbed their first cushion since 13-11 in the second quarter after a free throw by junior Trenton Austin, making the score 36-35. SC’s Williams answered with a triple at the 6:03 mark, but Pittsburg bounced back, clawing to a 39-38 advantage with 4:07 to play.
Mustang senior Ethan Speer, battling foul trouble all game, powered his way to the cup for an and-one bucket, willing his team to a 41-39 cushion with 3:55 remaining. Pittsburg then knotted up the score at 41-all before Salina Central closed the match on a 10-2 spurt before a desperation triple by English.
Williams was 4-of-12 from the floor, pulled down six rebounds and recorded three assists. Senior Sam Shaffer chipped in 13 points, connecting on three treys. Salina Central won the rebounding war 30 to 25, propelling the Mustangs to their seventh title appearance.
No. 6 Central and No. 4 Bishop Carroll square off Saturday at 6:15. The Golden Eagles downed Mill Valley 58-47 in their state semifinal tilt. Catch the game on Sports Radio 1150 KSAL.