By JIM MISUNAS
ST. JOHN — A Central Plains defender locked down every time St. John’s Cole Kinnamon or Jorge Calleros made a move,
The Oilers’ stifling defense paved the way for a 51-38 Mid-Winter Classic championship victory Saturday over three-time defending tournament champion St. John. Jacob Warnken guarded Kinnamon and Michael Ryan slowed down Calleros. The Tigers’ tandem made 8 of 30 field goals, a 27 percent clip that mirrored the Tigers shooting woes.
“Our defense was very solid and it was great team effort,” said Central Plains coach Brett Rolfs. “We contested everything and got down and rebounded. It was a big win and I’m very proud of these guys. They played hard in obviously a hostile environment. They played well together.”
The No. 1 Class 2A Oilers (12-0) beat the fourth-ranked Tigers (10-2) for the second time this season. The Oilers won 55-48 Dec. 15 to snap the Tigers’ 63-game winning streak. St. John beat the Oilers 49-44 for the Class 2A state basketball championship last year.
Oiler guard Michael Ryan was named Mid-Winter Classic Most Valuable Player after scoring 14 points while leading the Oilers’ second-half charge.
Coach Rolfs shifted Michael Ryan into the low post and the Oilers scored five consecutive times for a 29-19 lead. Devin Ryan drilled a 3-pointer on a kickout, Michael Ryan followed with a basket and three free throws and assisted to Alex Barton for a 3-point play.
The Tigers crept within 33-27 when Kinnamon and Calleros combined for six free throws. But Warnken drilled a 3-pointer and Barton followed with a basket for a 38-27 lead.
“Both teams have great intensity playing great defense,” Ryan said. “It’s good to play well here and gain some confidence. We may play these guys four times.”
The Oilers used solid ballhandling and passing for high percentage shots, even if it required time.
“We’re going to be patient and look for the highest percentage shot we can,” said Rolfs. “We run a lot of 5-out where we spread the court and look for their defense to break down. We look for a mismatch.”
The Oilers made 14 of 26 field goals while the Tigers converted 11 of 41 field goals. Cole Kinnamon led the Tigers with 17 points and Jorge Calleros added 11 points.
The Tigers learned they will have to perform their best to beat the Oilers.
“It was a great atmosphere and a fantastic crowd, It was fun for the kids. We showed a lot of toughness tonight,” said St. John coach Clint Kinnamon. “We guarded a lot better early than what we did late, but if you get behind those guys, they’re tough.”
The Oilers’ quickness forced the Tigers into poor offensive execution.
“Part of it was their defense — they guard hard,” said coach Kinnamon. “We had a lot of shots at the rim we missed and we had open threes that we missed. With how they play, a limited possession game, you have to make sure you score. We didn’t, especially early.”
The teams play again Feb. 5 at Claflin and will likely play again in finals of the Class 2A St. John substate.
“These guys are very humble about the accomplishments they’ve made. That’s what keeps us hungry and keeps us striving for more,” Rolfs said. “Ultimately, we want a state championship and we’re not going to be satisfied until we get one.”
Oiler Michael Ryan, St. John’s Jorge Calleros, and Kinnamon were named to the All-Tournament team with Larned’s Isiah Perez and Ness City’s Chandler Stiawalt.
Central Plains 7 11 13 20 — 51
St. John 4 12 9 13 — 38
CP—Michael Ryan 4-7 5-7 14; Crites 4-10 4-4 12; Devin Ryan 2-5 4-6 10; Rugan 0-0 2-2 2; Barton 2-2 2-5 7; Warnken 2-2 1-2 6; Totls 14-26 19-26 51.
SJ—Kinnamon 5-17 5-8 17; Jorge Calleros 3-13 4-7 11; Smith 0-2 0-0 0; Valenzuela 0-1 1-2 1; Fisher 1-3 0-0 2; Milton 2-5 3-4 7; Totals 11-41 13-20 38.