For the 5th time in school history, the Seward County Saints are headed to the NJCAA National Tournament after bringing the Region VI Tournament Championship back to Liberal. The Saints picked up a win over Dodge City in the quarterfinals 70-65 before winning an overtime thriller with Cloud County in the semifinals 69-66 to reach the championship. In the title game, the Saints matched up with the Cowley Tigers for the 5th straight year in the tournament and ran away late, going up by as many as 20 before wrapping up a 62-48 win to start the celebration. The Saints will open “The Tournament” on Tuesday at 8:30 against Wallace State-Hanceville.

On Sunday the Saints drew the Dodge City Conquistadors for the third time this season after sweeping the regular season series with their Southwestern Kansas rival. With a former Bryan Zollinger assistant on the bench for the Conqs, the two teams knew each other pretty well as they tipped off on Sunday night in Hartman Arena. Neither team could get into the flow on the offensive end and it was just 12-10 in favor of Seward midway through the first half. Seward began to take control, but a half court heave by Dodge City at the half found its mark and the Saints led by just one at the break 30-29. Saints sophomores Brice Jenkins and Daveon Boardingham took the game over in the second half as the slashing of Jenkins and the power of Boardingham inside put the Saints up big. With 6:08 remaining in the game, Trey Starks put together another highlight reel dunk, skying over two Conqs and two Saints for a two handed put back dunk to send the Seward crowd into a fury and put the Saints up 62-48. The rest was cosmetic for Seward as they took a big lead into the final minute before Dodge City made some late baskets to make it a 70-65 final in a game that was much more spread out than a five point margin of victory. The Saints got it done on the defensive end in the win, which was a theme in the tournament, forcing Dodge City into 24 turnovers while holding All-Conference guard RJ McGhee to just 2 of 14 shooting. Jenkins finished with a career high 17 points and 10 rebounds while Boardingham added 16 points in the win. Kaheem Ransom scored 8 points and had 8 boards and Irvin Hollinger finished with 8 points and 7 rebounds.


In the semifinals the Saints would have another date with a Jayhawk West foe as they collided with the Cloud County Thunderbirds whom them had split their regular season home and home with. Seward was led by their guards early on as Deverell Biggs and Ransom took control of the offense from the start. Biggs got things heated up for the Saints from the outside while Ransom used his driving ability to give Seward a 25-17 lead with 7 minutes left in the half. The Saints were solid on defense, but Cloud County hammered the offensive glass, getting a number of second chance points to keep the game close. Boardingham returned the favor on the T-Birds as the half came to a close, getting an offensive board and two to give the Saints a 38-29 lead into the half. Seward quickly added to their lead in the second half and looked as if they were going to run away with it, up 42-29 but then the Saints offense went dormant. Slowly, the T-Birds worked themselves back into the game and actually took a two point lead with 5 minutes remaining. Seward was able to tie it back up but couldn’t get a shot to fall on a drive and a desperation heave from the T-Birds came close, but wouldn’t fall and the game went to overtime tied at 60. Seward scored just 22 second half points and hit just 10 of 18 from the free throw line while Cloud headed up to 42% in the second period for the comeback. The overtime was nip and tuck early and the game remained tied two minutes in. The game was still tied, this time at 66, the Saints had the ball with time winding down and a 5 second differential on the game clock and shot clock. The Saints missed a shot with 8 seconds left in the game but Boardingham continued his dominance inside with an offensive rebound and finished his put back attempt inside and was fouled where he completed the three point play to put Seward up 69-66 with 6 seconds left. Cloud County was just 1 for 16 in the game from beyond the arc, so for Seward fans, it was a hold your breath 6 seconds as it seemed like the T-Birds were due to hit a long range bomb in the game. The conference’s leading scorer Devon Branch got a decent look in the corner with 3 seconds left but missed short, however, the T-Birds got their 24th offensive rebound of the night and kicked the ball out to Richard Carter who nailed a three as time expired. The referees originally waved off the basket, saying it was after the horn but thanks (or no thanks to Seward fans) to the fact that the game was being filmed for replay on TV later on in the week, the referees had the ability to go to the monitors to review the shot. After about one minute of watching replays, the referees confirmed their call and waved off the basket, sending a wave of emotion through Hartman Arena. The Saints were ecstatic with the win while the T-Birds were devastated. After shaking hands, the two teams left the court together with Seward showing extreme acts of sportsmanship, consoling Cloud players as they walked off the court together after the hard fought battle (pictured). Boardingham had a career game for the Saints, scoring 21 points and pulling down a career high 16 rebounds, one-upping the 15 he had in the tournament semifinals a year ago. Biggs finished with 20 points for the Saints while Hollinger put in 17 and had 7 rebounds. For the second straight game, the Saints guards stymied the opposing teams best player as Branch finished just 1 of 9 shooting and had just 7 points, nearly 14 points under his season average.


As improbable as the meeting was this season, the Seward County Saints and Cowley Tigers once again found themselves nose to nose in the tournament. For the 5th straight season, the Saints and Tigers went to battle, this time with everything on the line. It was kind of hard to argue with the old saying “defense wins championships” in this one as the top rated defense from the Jayhawk West met up with the top rated defense in the Jayhawk East in the winner take all final. Buckets were hard to come by in the early going and Seward got nearly all of their points from the free throw line in the first 8 minutes as they managed just one field goal, but kept the game close as it was tied at 12. Biggs and Ransom once again proved why they were the top guard combo in the conference this season as they kept the Saints afloat, scoring 25 of the Saints 27 points in the first half to give Seward a 27-23 lead at the break. The Saints amped up their defensive intensity to even another level in the second half and started to break away after back to back steal and scores that ended in a dunk from Hollinger and a three point play by Ransom to make it 39-30 with 11 minutes remaining. The Saints didn’t stop there, two more quick hoops forced another Cowley timeout and Seward was starting to feel it, ahead 43-30 with 8 minutes left. Seward started to pile it on late and was up 57-40 when you could start to see the smiles crack through their stone cold faces of their competitive side. The Saints went up by as many as 20 before the Tigers scored the final six points of the game, but it was too little too late as the celebration began with a 62-48 win by Seward to give them the Region VI Championship. The Saints celebration was modest for accomplishing such a great feat, as they posed for pictures and thanked their crowd before cutting down the Hartman Arena nets to the tune of We Are the Champions. After each player had their thread, Head Coach Bryan Zollinger stepped up and snipped the final piece of twine to pull the nets down and finish another chapter of Seward County history. Ransom finished the game with a game high 25 points and a career high 12 rebounds while Biggs scored 20 and had 5 steals while playing all 40 minutes of the contest. Biggs was named the Tournament MVP while Boardingham and Jenkins joined him on the All-Tournament Team.


The Saints are now 28-6 overall after sweeping through the tournament to win their 5th Region VI Title. They now advance to the NJCAA National Tournament in Hutchinson which begins on Tuesday where they will take on Wallace State-Hanceville from Alabama at 8:30 in the 1st round.