So maybe Saturday night's regular season finale with Pratt didn't have the pizazz for the Seward County Saints as it did last season when they battled it out with Hutchinson on the Greenhouse floor for the Jayhawk West title. However, even while Seward had basically nothing to play for, with the conference title and #1 seed from the West already locked up before the night began, the Saints came out with some spirit, coming from behind to down the Pratt Beavers 72-69 in the closing minutes before cutting down the Greenhouse nets for the fourth consecutive season as Jayhawk West Champions.
The Saints jumped out to an early 5-2 lead thanks to Jayhawk West Freshman of the Year favorite Niem Stevenson, but Pratt got things going and took a 9-7 lead on the Saints five minutes into things. Pratt pushed their lead to 16-11 before a bucket from Quentin Purtue cut the Beaver lead to three, but as the half went along, the Saints had trouble stopping the Pratt attack and with 7:25 remaining in the period, it was the Beavers on top 26-17. Stevenson did all he could to keep the Saints in the game and another three by him cut it to a 26-22 Pratt lead and after a free throw from Raoul Mentor later on, Seward was within two at 29-27. A tip in at the 3:31 mark by Stevenson knotted the game at 31, but Pratt closed the half on a 9-5 run to take a 40-36 lead into the break.
Pratt shot 58% in the half while Seward shot 50%. Stevenson had a game high 19 at the break while the rest of the Saints combined had just 17.
The Beavers pushed their lead to six early in the second half, but a three from Malcolm Hill-Bey and a pair of free throws by Stevenson had the Saints within just one at 42-41 with 17:44 to go. Stevenson scored again to give the Saints their first lead of the half and Evan Allen followed that with a steal and a slam to put Seward on top 45-42. Pratt came back to tie the game at 48 as Taylor Schieber hit a pair of threes with 14:45 remaining. The long balls got the Beavers going and before the Saints knew it, Pratt was on a 6-0 run to take a 54-50 lead. It was slow going on both sides in the offensive zones over the next 9:00 as Seward managed just 10 points in the span while Pratt had just two field goals and six points during the stretch as the Saints took a one point, 60-59 lead with 4:12 to go. Allen came into the game with just seven three's on the season for Seward, but the freshman rang the bell when the Saints needed him most, burying a pair of trifectas in the next minute to push the Saints lead to 67-62. A Pratt three made it just a two point game as the clock wound under 1:00 to go, but Seward took care of business at the free throw line, extending their lead to 72-67 late with a pair of freebies from Hill-Bey and they held on to win 72-69 despite a Pratt putback at the buzzer.
Seward shot exactly 50% in both halves while Pratt shot 50% in the second half and finished the game at 54% overall. Pratt also outshot the Saints from the three point line, shooting 50% from there to the Saints 31% on the night. The Beavers actually won the battle at the free throw line as well, outscoring Seward 18-15 there, but it was 11 Seward offensive rebounds and 19 Pratt turnovers that were the difference. The Saints ended the night with 13 more field goal attempts and 5 more field goals made than the Beavers.
Individually it was Stevenson finishing out his first Jayhawk West season in style, scoring a game high 30 for the Saints while Hill-Bey pitched in 10 and had 7 rebounds and Allen added 10 off the bench for Seward.
The Saints finish the regular season at 21-9 overall and 11-3 in Jayhawk West action, winning the league for a fourth consecutive season outright, this year by two full games plus the tiebreaker. Pratt falls to 18-12 on the year and 8-6 in Jayhawk West action where they finish in a wild four way tie for 3rd place which they came out smelling like a rose as the #3 seed from the West after the tiebreaking action.
Seward will open the Region VI Tournament at home on Saturday night at 8:00 in the Greenhouse with a familiar tournament opponent in an unfamiliar round. The Saints will matchup with the #8 seeded Cowley Tigers in their opener while Pratt draws 6th seeded Labette from the East. Free tickets are available for the Seward/Cowley game at any of the businesses listed on the bottom of the Saints new athletics website www.sewardsaints.com.