For Haven and Nickerson, it was a typical old-fashioned Reno County basketball rivalry.
Every rebound, every shot and every possession was contested with a fierce intensity. A crazy first half ended with a 14-14 tie.
After shooting 16 percent the first half, Nickerson’s Joey Stockinger found the offensive answer to coach Ryan Duft’s prayers from long range.
Stockinger drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to spark Nickerson’s hard-fought 43-35 Central Kansas League basketball victory over Haven Tuesday.
Ben Berridge fed a pair of assists to Stockinger for a 20-16 lead after the Panthers made 4 of 29 field goals. Ryan O’Toole closed out the third quarter with a 3-point play for a 23-22 lead.
Haven kept battling. Luke Johnson’s perfect assist to Isaac Ensz gave the Wildcats their final lead 26-25.
Stockinger answered again with a 3-point from the corner for 28-26 lead that the Panthers never lost. Stockinger fed a pass to Ethan Belden for a 30-26 lead and Jake Stiverson and O’Toole started the Panthers’ free throw parade with three free throws for a 33-26 lead.
“We were struggling to shoot it the first half. It felt great to hit a couple of shots the second half,” Stockinger said. “They were packing their defense in. They were making us shoot a lot of 3-pointers.”
After shooting 14 percent, the Panthers finished the game converting 7 of their final 11 field goals off better passing against Haven’s sagging 1-3-1 defense.
“It came down to toughness and taking care of the basketball,’” Stockinger said. “Beating a really good Haven team should give us some confidence.”
Nickerson (5-13, 2-5 CKL) made 10 of 21 free throws in the fourth perioand 16 of 31 overall, but it was good enough to pull out a hard-earned victory. The victory keeps the Panthers seeded away from top-seeded Andale in the Pratt 4A basketball substate.
You couldn’t knock the smile off the face of Nickerson coach Ryan Duft, who celebrated the birth of his third child (Caleb William) Monday night with his wife Beth.
“We didn’t shoot it very well from the perimeter, but Joey made a couple of 3-pointers to give us a lead,” Duft said. “That’s one of our best wins and one of the best team’s we’ve beaten.”
Duft said he expected both teams to compete at a high level with substate starting in two weeks.
“We knew both teams would compete hard because Haven really gets after it defensively too,” he said. ““Usually when you’re not hitting shots, it affects your defense, but that didn’t happen tonight for either team.”
Nickerson benefited when the officials whistled a pair of intentional fouls against Haven’s Trae Regier. But the officials gave the Wildcats a break when they added 5 extra seconds when they lost track of the clock with 1:45 left in regulation when Luke Johnson was shooting a two-shot foul.
Tim Hendrixson and hard-working Ensz each scored nine points for Haven (11-7, 3-4 CKL). The Wildcats finished with 12 of 37 shooting with 13 turnovers against aggressive Nickerson defense. Luke Johnson started on fire with four quick points and finished with seven points.
Haven coach Lonnie Paramore saw the Wildcats hold Nickerson to 27 percent shooting. It was a tough loss for the Wildcats, battling for the second-best record in the Hillsboro Class 3A substate with Salina Sacred Heart.
“You hold a team to that type of shooting and you should win,” Paramore said. “We defended well enough to win the ballgame, but we didn’t execute our offense. About the only thing we didn’t do the first half was we let them have too many offensive rebounds. We didn’t play very smart basketball. We played way too fast on offense, especially in the first half.”
Paramore said Haven rushed its offense and got playing too fast because they were emotionally charged.
“Nickerson-Haven is always an intense game. We were so jacked up to play, we played too fast on the offensive end,” he said. “It’s extremely frustrating. We have way better shooters than that. We didn’t make shots we normally would make.”
Haven plays Hillsboro at home and Nickerson plays at Kingman Friday night.