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Kapaun fights off stubborn Newton

Published March 5 at 11:45 p.m. | Last updated March 5 at 11:47 p.m.

In addition to the fond memories of winning El Dorado’s Bluestem Classic six weeks ago, Kapaun Mount Carmel’s Atir Cherne remembered the spunk and grit shown by Newton, a team the Crusaders didn’t play in the midseason tournament.

The Railers made an impression on Cherne when they erased a 21-point deficit against Collegiate before losing in the quarterfinals. So much so that when Kapaun led Newton by eight points at halftime Wednesday in the Class 5A sub-state semifinals, he figured the Crusaders’ work was just beginning.

“We knew we had to put them away,” Cherne said. “We knew they’d fight back and we had to lock down on (defense). But they hit crazy shots.”

Newton proved to be stubborn, making 10 three-pointers to keep Kapaun on edge. But Cherne, a junior guard, scored a game-high 22 points, and he and his teammates supplied enough effective defensive pressure for a 60-55 victory over the visiting Railers.

Kapaun (11-10), a fourth-place finisher in 5A a year ago and champion in 2012, will travel to Heights on Friday to play for a berth in next week’s 5A tournament in Topeka. Heights (17-4), No. 5 in the 5A coaches’ rankings, started its postseason with an 83-21 victory over Arkansas City on Wednesday.

Junior Thomas O’Connor added 18 points, including 8 of 8 free throws in the final quarter, to help the Crusaders hold off Newton (8-13). The Railers, who ended the season on a five-game losing streak, got 19 points from Tevin Berry and 13 from Sam Lehman.

Kapaun used full-court and half-court pressure to force 10 first-half turnovers. After O’Connor knocked down a three from the baseline late in the first quarter to put the Crusaders up 19-16, they didn’t trail again.

“It sped them up,” Kapaun coach John Cherne said. “With what we saw in person and on videos, the big thing was to get them sped up so they couldn’t run their high-low (offense). … We were just able to speed them up enough to not necessarily get turnovers, but make their decision-making process a little faster.”

After making seven of its first 10 shots from the field, Newton scored just six second-quarter points and shot 24 percent in the middle two quarters. It enabled Kapaun to take its first double-digit lead when Atir Cherne stole the ball from Berry and converted a layup for a 39-29 lead with 1:36 to play in the third.

“We’d have three- or four-minute stretches this season where we’d turn it over or get beat on the boards, and then we’d have a hard time digging out of those stretches,” Newton coach Don Cameron said. “That’s how I’d assess it.”

Despite making 12 of 14 free throws in the final quarter and 19 of 22 for the game, Kapaun struggled to put Newton away. Five Railers hit at least one three-pointer, and when Riley Kingsley hit an off-balance shot from beyond the arc with 41 seconds remaining, Kapaun’s advantage was 58-52.

Newton had an opportunity to get closer after Brendan Downey stole the ball and was fouled seconds later. But Downey missed two free throws, and O’Connor sealed the victory with a pair of free throws with 19 seconds to play.

To get back to the 5A tournament, Kapaun will have to get past Heights, which defeated the Crusaders 43-35 in mid-January and 46-36 in the regular-season finale.

“We’re happy with the win, but we’re not going to think about it too much,” Atir Cherne said. “It’s just time to get ready for the next one.”


Newton: J. Kingsley 6, Drinnen 6, Berry 19, Lehman 13, R. Kingsley 6, Carlgren 5.

Kapaun: Patton 11, O’Connor 18, Monty 2, Cherne 22, Hickerson 4, Lickteig 3.

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