Boys clinch outright league title with dramatic road win over Seaman

Greg Woods, Editor-in-Chief

Before a deafening crowd Friday night in Topeka, Grant Munsen flailed his arm upward toward the student section as he jogged away toward the locker room.

His face told of elation; his drenched hair of exhaustion — the latter of which was to be expected.

He tried to rile up the fanbase even more, but it was useless. The ruckus had already peaked.

Because the senior forward and the Manhattan High boys basketball team — without senior guard Gabe Awbrey, who was sidelined with a shoulder injury — were just minutes removed from the final buzzer of its 66-56 win over Seaman, clinching the Centennial League title outright for the second straight year.

And Munsen had a lot to do with it.

He played every minute of the back-and-forth fourth quarter, when baskets from both Seaman and Manhattan were met with roars from each team’s crowd, adding even more clamor to the already-raucous environment.

The Vikings entered the game unbeaten at home, with a chance to clinch a share of the league title with a win. A Manhattan loss meant sharing the title.

Munsen was not having any of it.

On top of suffocating Seaman’s senior forward and standout Ryan Zeferjahn and limiting him to six points, Munsen connected on each of his four free throws in the final stanza, with the game in the balance. The final two, which arrived after forcing Zeferjahn into his fourth foul, lifted the Indians to a 58-51 lead with just under three minutes to play.

Head coach Benji George said Munsen’s effort went beyond the stat sheet.

“He does things that aren’t going to show up on a box score,” George said. “He just fills it up in terms of what we need — defensively, rebounding. He’s a great glue guy for us.”

But even when Munsen was not involved, the fourth quarter’s momentum did not settle on one team for long.

Instead, the teams traded buckets. Seaman’s Jordon Jensen canned a triple early in the frame, only to be greeted by one from junior Tommy Ekart. The guard’s three pushed Manhattan’s lead to 50-47, and that’s when the turnovers began to accumulate for the home team.

It coughed it up eight times in the fourth, but perhaps none at a more inopportune time than when Ekart and senior Robbie Ostermann forced them. Just seconds after Zeferjahn hit a three to pull within three, Ekart snatched up a Seaman inbounds pass and bolted the other way for a deuce.

Ostermann followed suit.

The senior chased down Josiah Hazim on one occasion for a steal, and snatched up a loose ball from the trying hands of Jensen on another.

“We celebrated Robbie’s plays in the locker room,” George said. “Robbie chasing Hazim down to get one, that’s pure desire right there. And he showed desire.”

The swings of momentum ceased when Ostermann converted on 1-of-2 free throws in the final minute. The Indians had escaped perhaps the most inimical gym they had stepped foot into all year with perhaps their biggest win of the year.

At least, that’s where George ranked it.

“I know the emotion of the moment is there,” he said. “But I’d have to put it darn close to the top.”

The top, however, is not where Manhattan found itself for much of the first half.

Because the Vikings sprayed home seven first-half triples, including three in the first quarter alone. The long ball helped Seaman to a lead at the break, but ironically, the second quarter was the period George said was key.

The reasoning was simple: after junior guard Trevor Hudgins picked up two quick fouls in the opening minutes of the contest, Manhattan was crippled at the guard position, without Hudgins nor Awbrey directing traffic.

Instead, Manhattan turned to its reserves, who kept things close. Junior Ian Trapp tallied four points in the second, senior Zach Francis posted five, and fellow senior Darryl Mallett added two.

The result was a six-point MHS deficit at the half, but George was satisfied.

“Everybody felt fine at halftime, because I told the guys, ‘they’re not going to hit seven threes in a half again,’” George said. “I thought keeping the game close in the second quarter was just huge, because we could come out of the locker room then with some confidence.”

When they did, the Indians set the stage for the theatrical fourth quarter in the third.

Ostermann netted a long-ball to trim the deficit to three, and Hudgins converted on an and-one — received by piercing booms from the Manhattan side of the bleachers — to knot the game at 33.

The basket-swapping carried on through the third, and into the dramatic fourth stanza, but the Indians walked away winners.

And George was not the only one to rank Friday’s game near the top of their MHS experiences. Hudgins, who totaled 14 points, boarded the bandwagon George began.

“This has to be the first,” he said. “If we would have lost, they would have shared it, and Highland Park would have shared it, and we wanted it all to ourselves.”

George’s decision to hold Awbrey out of the contest began shortly after Tuesday’s senior-night win over Junction City, when Awbrey first injured his shoulder. It was for precautionary reasons, with sub-state looming.

And now, with a league title under their belts and the momentum of a 17-3 record, the Indians are faced with a familiar villain: Washburn Rural, the very team that ended Manhattan’s sub-state run a year ago, not a game into the postseason.

The Junior Blues fell to Topeka High Friday night, dropping Rural to the No. 8 seed. When Hudgins received word of the matchup after his team’s win, a grin crept across his face. He nodded his head.

“We have to come out exactly with the same mindset as we had tonight,” Hudgins said. “It’s going to be emotional and tough.”

For now, though, the Indians will relish the league title the hunt for which began nine months ago, when the team met during the summer.

It became a reality Friday night.

“I told the players that they’re going to have to want it more than I did, and they’re going to want it more than Topeka Seaman did,” George said. “They went 2-0 on that.”