CANEY — As the wins continued to mount for the Caney Valley High School boys‘ basketball team this season, one thing was square on the mind of the Bullpup team and fans … State. See this is a program that hasn’t reached that level of success at a state level in more than five decades.
So when the final seconds ticked off the clock of the team’s 77-44 victory over Montgomery County rival Cherryvale in the championship game of the Class 3A Riverton Sub-State, it was a time of celebration for CVHS. The Bullpups were heading to state for the first time since 1965.
“For the guys and the program and Caney Valley High School, this is a big deal,” said Caney Valley boys’ coach Andy Gillen, who is in his first season in charge of the Bullpups after previously winning three state championships on the girls’ side at South Gray (2010) and Hugoton (2015 and 2017) . “I’m happy for the guys. If people only knew the unseen hours that they’ve put in to get in this position, they’ve done a lot. It’s impressive and a testament to them to how hard they’ve worked. I’m proud of them. But now our mindset is who’s next.”
To make things even better was that earlier Saturday, the CVHS girls‘ team also punched its ticket to Hutchinson with a 48-45 victory over Erie. That gave the Lady Bullpups their fifth trip to state in the last seven years.
“Every game we play is like this,” said Lady Bullpup coach Emily Washburn, previously the head women’s coach at Coffeyville Community College who is now in her first season on the bench of her alma mater. “We only had one 20-point difference in a game all season. Almost every single one of them was under 10 points. It does make a difference to play so many close games like that. What a great experience for them. I’m just super proud of the girls that they get to have this opportunity. For them, I’m so excited for them. It’s so awesome.”
The Caney Valley boys have won seven straight games following Saturday night’s championship win over Cherryvale. They were playing in the sub-state championship game for a second straight season. A year ago, the Bullpups suffered a 79-73 overtime loss to Belle Plaine in the final at Fredonia. But this time, they take that next step to compete at state for the first time in 53 years.
In the win over Cherryvale, the Bullpups turned a five-point game just before halftime into a 35-point margin during about eight minutes of action. The contest also included some heated moments between the two longtime Montgomery County rivals that resulted in an intentional foul and three technical fouls.
Caney Valley’s return to state competition will start Wednesday. The Bullpups — with a 21-2 overall record — will have the No. 4 seed in the Class 3A State Tournament in Hutchinson and will take on No. 5 seed Halstead (20-2) at 4:45 p.m. inside the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
The winner of that contest will take on the winner of No. 1 seed Maur Hill-Mount Academy (22-1) and No. 8 Council Grove (11-11) in a 4:45 p.m. semifinal contest on Friday. Those teams will open up state play Wednesday at 3 p.m.
In other quarterfinal action on Wednesday, it will be No. 2 Phillipsburg (21-1) against No. 7 Thomas More Prep (17-5) at 6:30 p.m., and No. 3 Cheney (21-2) against No. 6 Perry-Lecompton (20-3) at 8:15 p.m. The winners of those games will play in the other semifinal game at 8:15 p.m. Friday.
The Caney Valley girls advanced to state by edging Tri-Valley League foe Erie in Saturday’s sub-state championship game. Brea Buoy led the Lady Bullpups with a game-high 26 points, including a 10-of-14 effort at the free throw line. CVHS has played close games all season with 15 of its 23 games decided by 10 points or less.
At 13-10 overall with four straight wins, CVHS will have the No. 8 seed at state and will take on top-seeded Garden Plain (20-1) in Thursday’s quarterfinal round set for 6:30 p.m.
“We’re going to play the No. 1 seed,” Washburn said. “There are probably a whole lot of really good teams around the state that aren’t going to get there. We’re going to go, do our best and enjoy it. You just hope for one of those games where all your shots fall.”
The winner of that contest will move into Friday’s 6:30 p.m. semifinal contest and take on either No. 4 Haven (19-3) or No. 5 Scott Community (19-4) — scheduled to meet Thursdsay at 8:15 p.m.
In the other half of the bracket, No. 2 seed Nemaha Central (21-2) faces No. 7 Royal Valley (15-7) in the first quarterfinal at 3 p.m. Thursday, while No. 3 Thomas More Prep (20-2) will meet No. 6 Wellsville (18-4) at 4:45 p.m. The winners of those games will meet in the first semifinal on Friday at 3 p.m.