For the third time in as many years, the Seward County Saints close the regular season with a crown after defeating rival Hutchinson Wednesday night on the Greenhouse floor 62-60 to capture their third straight Jayhawk West Conference Championship. In what was a great atmosphere for junior college basketball, Seward and Hutch duked it out on Wednesday. The teams didn’t disappoint anxious onlookers, going blow for blow all night, with neither team leading by more than 8 at any point in the game. Hutch led 29-24 at the half and led much of the second half before Seward took the lead with 1:54 to go. The Saints led 60-56 before four straight Dragon points tied the game at 60 with 11 seconds remaining to set up the drama. Malcolm Hill-Bey drove the length of the court and dished to Leslee Smith who finished at the rim to give Seward the lead with 4.5 seconds left and a last ditch effort by Hutchinson fell short as the Greenhouse crowd erupted in elation as the Saints captured the Jayhawk West title with a 62-60 win.

With everything on the line the Saints and Dragons tipped things off after sophomore recognition festivities in the Greenhouse Wednesday night. It was a back and forth affair early on with the two heavyweights exchanging jabs until they were tied at 8 after finishes inside from big men Leslee Smith of Seward and Alex Davis of Hutch. They traded buckets to 12-12 with 11:17 to go when Hutchinson grabbed the first control of the game. The Dragons went up by five with 7:43 left in the half and after Seward cut the Hutch lead to two with under 20 seconds remaining in the half, a huge three from Jayhawk West Player of the Year favorite Kadeem Allen put the visitors up 29-24 as the teams went to the break. Both defenses were good in the first half as Seward shot just 32% and Hutchinson 36%. The Saints did a stellar job of taking care of the basketball in the first half, turning it over just 4 times after having troubles to hold on to the leather at other points during the season.
Hutchinson’s five point lead was quickly erased as the second half got going as a 6-0 run led by Smith and Edson Avila gave Seward a 30-29 lead 1:16 into the period. After Hutch regained the lead, a six footer from Brian Bridgeforth tied the game at 36 and forced a timeout from the Blue Dragon bench. Out of the timeout the Dragons got a dunk from Davis and seemed to wake up the Hutch bench. The Dragons went on an 8-0 run with the flush and with 12:20 remaining, Hutchinson had the momentum and their largest lead of the game 44-36. Hutch remained in front by six 6:00 later as Seward couldn’t seem to find a way to get within striking distance before the Dragons pushed their lead back to two posessions at 52-46 with 6:33 left in the game. A Kaheem Ransom to Avila find for the Saints made it a four point game and a lightning quick Malcolm Hill-Bey drive to the basket and score made it a two point game 52-50 with 5:03 left. Hutch went back up four, but a step back three from Ransom found the net to make it a one point game and another Hill-Bey circus shot gave the Saints the lead 55-54 with 3:55 remaining. Hutch took the lead back on a jumper from D’Von Campbell on their next trip down the floor to make it 56-55 and that is where the score stayed as the clock went under 2:00. After two missed free throws from Allen, one of the top free throw shooters in the league, the Saints capitalized as Hill-Bey found Avila on the block and the big man did the rest with a spin move and shot off the glass to give the Saints a 57-56 lead. Three big defensive stops for Seward gave the guys in green a chance to extend their lead and that they did as Jabari Peters made a backwards scoop shot as he was being fouled to put Seward up three and a free throw later it looked like the Saints were in the clear, up 60:56 with 28 seconds left. Just when Seward thought they had it sealed, a long jumper from Davis made it a two point game and an inexplicable Saints turnover gave Hutch the ball back with a chance to tie with under 20 seconds to go. Good ball movement gave the Dragons the look they wanted and Dre Hensley finished at the rim to take the air out of the Greenhouse as the Dragons tied the game with 11 seconds remaining. After a Seward timeout, the ball was in Hill-Bey’s hands with the Greenhouse again rocking, and as he did in the Odessa game earlier in the year, the freshman lefthander drove the length of the court, found a hole in the Dragon defense and dished it to Smith who took it up with authority and scored with 4.5 seconds left to give Seward a 62-60 lead. Still with plenty of time on the clock, the Dragons raced the ball up the court and a last second game winning attempt from Campbell was wide left and the horn sounded to alert the home crowd of victory as the Saints pulled off the upset win 62-60 for their third straight Jayhawk West Conference title.
The Saints were extremely efficient on the offensive end in the second half of the game, shooting 60% from the field to finish at 45% for the game, while holding the league’s top offense in Hutchinson to just 38% from the floor in the win. Avila played his second straight huge game against the Dragons, scoring 19 points and hauling down 8 rebounds in the win while fellow big man Leslee Smith notched his second double-double in a week, scoring 16 points and ripping down 10 big rebounds. Peters added 12 for the Saints and Hill-Bey pitched in 8 off the Seward bench. Allen scored a game high 22 for Hutch.
Seward finishes the regular season having won 8 straight and 14 of 15 dating back to January 5th to end the first season 23-7 overall. The Saints win their third consecutive title with a 14-2 mark in conference play, the most wins by any Jayhawk West school since Barton won 14 in 2002. The 5th ranked Dragons suffer their third loss in five games, falling to 27-3 overall and finish in 2nd place in the Jayhawk West for the 4th straight year at 13-3. The Saints draw the top seed for the upcoming Region VI Tournament beginning on Saturday and will host Colby in the 1st round in the Greenhouse at 6:00. Hutchinson will be at home as well as the #2 seed and they will take on Northwest Kansas Tech in the Sports Arena Saturday night at 7:30.
The buyout sponsor for Saturday’s 1st round game is Collins Diamonds and has free tickets still available at their downtown Liberal location, as well as at Pizza Hut, Billy’s, Spencer Brown’s, and Community Bank. Each ticket will have a $100 off coupon on it and Collins Diamonds will be giving away $2000 worth of jewelry at the game.