Lions gear up for championship game, reflect on season


Cooper Avery

Teammates huddle on the court before the game.

By Zia Kelly

WICHITA — The Lions are just one game away from the prize.

After dominating four segments of what coach Mike Lewis describes as the “five-game tournament,” the Lions will fight through the final stretch, looking to come out with the first state championship since 1995.

After overcoming a long day of travel and getting used to a new, large venue, the Lions overtook the Shawnee Mission North Indians 78-64 on Friday night. The team takes on the top-ranked Wichita East team tonight at 6:15 at Koch Arena on the campus of Wichita State University.

Lewis kept his pregame message short: “Stay loose and have fun” was the advice he gave before the boys stormed onto the court for tipoff.

The team took the advice to heart. Although they had a slow start, they were quick to push ahead. They lead by three points at the five minute mark.

SMN gave the team a run for its money, getting pressure from the North’s offensive leads, Michael and Marcus Weathers. The game got physical quickly. Three Lions fouled out by the last quarter, but LHS pulled ahead by staying tight on defense.

“Coach Lewis says that defense decides championships,” sophomore Jackson Mallory said. “If you play defense on their two best players, you are going to come out with a win.”

The hard work on D payed off with the Lions’ pressure limiting the Indians to a 37.8 percent field goal average. The Lions had the shooting edge with a 50 percent average overall. Top scorers included junior Justin Roberts with 27 points and senior Anthony Bonner with 20 points. On the defensive side junior Price Morgan had seven rebounds.

Neither team had the home court advantage. Both traveled more than three hours to arrive in Wichita. However, both teams were followed by busloads of students who filled the stands just like at home games.

Students who didn’t take the school-provided fan bus rode down in groups and with their parents, many staying in Wichita overnight.

Junior Aubrey Goscha drove down yesterday afternoon with her friend’s parents to see the game. She, her friends and dozens of other students recreated the home-court feel for the players, sitting right behind their basket for the second half.

The venue, Charles Koch Arena on the Wichita State University campus, is the largest location the Lions have played. They had their first experience in the arena during quarterfinals on Wednesday night.

Fans were admitted at the ticket office at the arena and were scanned in by arena employees as they would have been at a college or pro-level game.

“It was pretty cool,” Gocha said. “They [the players] looked so small compared to everything else.”

LHS students sang their usual chants during free throws and halftime, and they closed out the game by singing the alma mater over the SMN pep band’s song.

Students, staff and administration said making the trip was worth it for the rare opportunity to witness a team go to State.

“I think its awesome for the school,” athletic director Bill DeWitt said. “With our history, we don’t ever want to take state championship opportunities for granted. They worked hard: 22-1 is unbelievable, beating a league opponent a second time is unbelievable. It was a good game.”

The team had an unparalleled regular season after overcoming a major loss.

Last year’s run at state was cut short by a loss in the Lion’s final substate game. That coincided with with the tragic loss beloved coach Kermit Aldrich, who died of cancer.

Early this season, the team set their eyes on the State championship not only for themselves but for Aldridge.

“Losing him and then losing in the substate final the same day was hard,” Mallory said. “And then we just went through so much this summer and in preseason, even through this season just fighting through adversity to get it for him–even more than ourselves.”

Team members are ensured that their performance would have made Aldrich proud. They kept his advice in mind moving into postseason.

“He would have told us to just play hard and have fun,” Mallory said. “Those are the best two things you can do. He likes defense, we really stepped up our defense this year. He would have been proud.”

One game off from completing their State run, the Lions say they are confident they will compete well in the home stretch.

“Playing hard, playing smart and playing together [is what it will take to win State],” Mallory said. “If we do that we will be in the game no matter what. With our offense, and if we play defense the way we can, we will come out with a win, or at least a shot.”