As the final buzzer sounded in the gymnasium at Lawrence Free State High School Wednesday, the 2019-20 basketball season came to a close for the Junction City Blue Jays as they fell 56-68 to the Firebirds.
A strong second quarter found the Blue Jays erasing a deficit to take the lead into the break before the Firebirds fired back in the second half to the take the game to advance to the next round of sub-state.
“I thought our guys did extremely ... well first of all, I think our guys were a little awestruck,” said coach Nick Perez. “I don't know if they didn't expect this kind of atmosphere, how good they were, whatnot. But, I give our guys credit, because it was 19-5. At one point I looked up there and it was scary. We battled back, we had opportunities, we missed a lot of shots early, we settled early — but our guys, they fight through that stuff and that's been kind of our MO, unfortunately, you know, we go into halftime with the lead, we just couldn't we just couldn't get over that hump.”
Six first quarter points were put on the board by Chris Dixon (3), Darren Battiste (1) and Chaz Ruffin (2), with Ruffin scoring the final points in the frame on a layup.
Down 6-19, the Blue Jays rallied back to take the 30-29 lead into the break. After the break, the third quarter belonged to the Firebirds who retook the lead, 42-50, and never looked back.
“Coming out of locker room I thought we had a great idea,” Perez said. “And, then we come out and we kind of forget everything and it's it's the nature of the business. We've got got some young kids in their and their learning and, we just we struggled offensively.”
With the loss, the Blue Jays fell to 8-13 on the year and day goodbye to a core group of seniors who have moved the team along since joining. Perez is also confident in the underclassmen who stepped up this season, making shots when needed, hitting the boards hard and looks forward to how they progress next season.
“Man, I tell you what, Howard (Johnson) is a great shooter and he's one of those kids that he's gonna be in the gym — he's a gym rat,” Perez said. “And I think Chris Dixon will be in the gym and Austin (Smith) will be in the gym, (Terrance) Tedder will be in the gym. But, just like I told them in the locker room, what are you doing in the gym that's making you better. Do we go to the rack and just mess around or are we going to the gym to get shots up and actually compete with each other. But, a good sophomore classes. I thought Chaz (Ruffin) played well tonight too. Unfortunately for [Qua'Vez Humphreys] he fouled out. Hats off these kids, I love them. I think they do a heck of a job, they represent our school very, very well. And I'm proud of them.
“I'm happy with what we got coming back, but on the flip side of it we got a lot of work to do,” he added. “I think most coaches would agree with me at Junction that we need to do a better job of just getting our kids in a habit and for us, it's a little bit different. But ,we got to find a way, we got to find a way. I love our kids. I think we're going to be great and they keep continue doing the things that they're doing.”
Perez said looking back on the season there were games lost that should have gone the other way and the team could have accomplished their goals this season — win the Centennial League, host sub-state and compete at the state tournament.
“I think our younger guys are going to get in the gym and use this as a learning experience,” he said. “They had 21 games to learn. So, it can only go up from here.”
1st 2nd 3rd 4th Tot
Junction City 6 24 12 14 56
Free State 19 10 21 18 68
Scoring: JCHS: Dixon, 12; Johnson, 17; Ruffin, 6; Humphreys, 12; Smith, 1; Battiste, 8. LFS: Downing, 7; Piper, 16; Hawkins, 7; Lincoln, 8; Yoder, 9, Branch, 5; Middleton, 8; Daniels, 8.