ANDOVER, Kan—For better or worse, there is a first time for everything. And for the Andover seniors, there was never going to be a better time to beat rival Andover Central then going into The Jungle and beating the Jaguars 47-44 in the substate championship game.
“This senior group has not beaten Andover Central until this game,” said Andover head coach Chad Wilmott. “They kept reminding me of that. They let me know about it. The whole year, we have played teams, and the games we lost, most of them were close. We just didn’t make the play when we had to. I kept encouraging them all year, I said, ‘Listen, when it matters we are going to make the play.’ And we did tonight.”
Led by Bryant Klusener’s 10 points and a strong defensive effort by senior leader Dallas Bruner, the Trojans got the weight off their backs with a postseason dagger to their rivals. With a 36-29 lead going into the final quarter, Andover did not have the game in the bag. Central battled back to cut the lead to 3 with one possession to tie. The Jaguars got three shots away with the last one failing to drop at the buzzer, sending Andover and its fans into a frenzy.
“It was nerve wracking,” said Bruner. “Every time they shoot it I just turned and looked and prayed. I had more energy than I did to start this game when that final buzzer rang.”
Although there isn’t a player on the Andover team that has ever beaten Central, the Jaguars were the team they wanted to play for a chance to go to state. While getting what you ask for can sometimes be dangerous, the Trojans kept their heads down and fought off what had been an inevitable outcome in every game since 2008. With Central making a comeback, sending the bench and the black and gold side of the gym into a rabid lather, Andover kept it together with the pressure building.
“This senior group has a lot of experience over the last three years playing varsity basketball,” said Wilmott. “It all finally came together right now. All those games that they have played, all those lessons they have learned, it helped a lot. They kept their composure and I’m proud of my guys.”
The elusive Andover victory over its cross-town rival coming in the substate championship led to a massive and hard-earned celebration. But it also means the season campaign is not over. The Trojans earned themselves at least one more game, coming at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka.
The Trojans are not looking past the bright light of the state’s largest stage, but with a win like this one, they are going to take some time to enjoy the moment.
“First of all we are going to enjoy this, this weekend,” said Wilmott. “The players are going to enjoy it. Coaches get back to work tomorrow and see what the matchups are going to be.”