Iola High’s dramatic victory over Fort Scott to open the Class 4A Substate Tournament brought to mind the Mustangs’ 2020 playoff run, in which the shoe was nearly on the other foot.
On Tuesday, the Mustangs erased an 11-point deficit to win 50-49, holding Fort Scott scoreless over the last 5:4.
Rewind the clock 12 months, to Iola’s playoff opener last year, also at home, to the Louisburg Wildcats.
In that game, Iola got off to a quick start, dominated through the middle, but then saw the Wildcats come back from a 50-30 deficit to force overtime, scoring the game-tying points with 2.6 seconds left in regulation.
That time, the Mustangs were able to regroup in overtime, pulling home a 77-68 victory.
Why is this pertinent?
Because in order for the Mustangs to claim Friday’s substate championship, they must go on the road and take on the same Louisburg squad that threw quite a scare Iola’s way in 2020.
The two teams battled out for the top seed in this year’s substate standings for much of the season, with Iola surrendering a two-game lead and the No. 1 slot by going 1-3 in the final week.
So that sends the Iola (14-7) on the road for Friday’s 7 p.m. contest. The game will be livestreamed via Louisburg’s YouTube channel. (Enter “Louisburg Sports Live” in the search bar.)
The Wildcats (15-6) will offer a stern test, with plenty of size, speed and now experience.
“The good news is that we faced big, physical guards in League play this season, so we should be used to it,” Mustang head coach Luke Bycroft said.
But first, a look down low.
Louisburg features 6-9 behemoth Julian Margrave, whose production around the basket is accentuated by his deft shooting touch from beyond the 3-point arc.
Margrave scored 23 in last year’s matchup, and is certain to be load to guard. Bycroft anticipates throwing a variety of defenses at the Louisburg attack, including some schemes he doesn’t use often to keep Margrave from conistently getting the ball in the low post.
“You can’t just sit there and play man all the time,” Bycroft said. “When he posts up, he’s going to be a load for us.”
But while Margrave is more than enough to give opposing coaches fits, it’s a pair of guards who make the Wildcats go.
Senior cousins Ben and Weston Guetterman also provide plenty of firepower at both ends of the court. Both are adept ball-handlers, have good shooting range, speed and perhaps most importantly, possess superb ball-hawking skills. Weston Guetterman scored 20 against Iola last spring.
“They’re the engine,” Bycroft said.
Being careful with the ball on offense is crucial for Iola’s chances. “We have to be crisp. We can’t take chances.”
The guards are so effective, they allow Margrave to sag low near the basket to alter opposing shots, making their defense even more effective.
Likewise, Iola must remain aggressive at its end of the court to keep Louisburg off the scoreboard.
“They know what they want to do with the ball,” Bycroft said. “We can’t let them get comfortable.”
A VICTORY Friday will send Iola to the state quarterfinals, the COVID-inspired shift to this year’s postseason, to take on either Chanute or Parsons. Those two teams also will square off Friday, at Chanute.
The state quarterfinal winners will advance to the Class 4A state site in Salina next Thursday, March 11, for the semifinals and the possible championship game on Saturday, March 13.
IOLA ISN’T the only school still in the running for a substate title.
Humboldt’s Lady Cubs will host top seed Uniontown at 8 p.m. Friday in the Class 2A substate seminfinal round. The winner will face either No. 2 seed St. Mary’s Colgan or third-seeded Pleasanton at 5 p.m. Saturday for the substate crown.
Meanwhile, both of Southern Coffey County High’s squads are still alive in Class 1A-II. They’ll be in St. Paul for their semifinal rounds. The Lady Titans face top seed and tournament host St. Paul tonight at 8 o’clock, with the winner playing either Waverly or Marais des Cygnes Valley at 2 p.m. Saturday. The SCC boys will play Altoona-Midway at 8 p.m. Friday for a championship game berth at 5 p.m. Saturday against either Waverly or Chetopa.