SENECA — The Seneca Indians went on a pair of runs, one in the second and one in the third quarter, that amounted to a combined 27-0 advantage en route to a 58-40 Class 3, District 12 quarterfinal victory Wednesday night over the Sarcoxie Bears.
In both runs, Seneca’s defense and rebounding proved a constant factor in Sarcoxie’s lack of offensive production. Meanwhile, though, Seneca found different ways to score in each run — attacking the basket, drawing fouls, and making nine consecutive free throws during that 13-0 stretch in the second and then penetrating guards dishing the ball to shooters in rhythm in the third quarter.
Shooting’s like dancing — it’s best when the rhythm’s right — and the Indians found their shooting rhythm with four 3-point shots, including three by Layne Henning, giving them a 43-28 lead.
Payton Armstrong’s traditional basket closed out a 14-0 blast and put Seneca up 17 points.
Overall, in the third quarter, Seneca outscored Sarcoxie 16-4.
“Early on, Preston (Armstrong), our point guard did a great job of getting downhill and making things happen,” Seneca head coach Will King said. “Then, as the game goes on, I think naturally that creates more opportunities for shooters. I think we had different guys. I think particularly Layne Henning had some big buckets in the third quarter that were created off penetration. That’s us. We’re capable of that and we’ve done it all year long. I think the third quarter was big for us. We’ve had some good third quarters and we did tonight.
“I think our defense was great all night long. Guys played with high energy, kept battling, and when you play defense, you always have a chance. Especially this time of year. We’ve talked about the teams that keep advancing are the ones that play defense. I think our guys stepped up to that challenge tonight.”
Seneca improved to 17-9 overall this season (two more victories for the Indians than last season) and the Indians play top seed Mount Vernon in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday, a game followed by No. 2 seed Stockton and No. 3 Lamar.
Sarcoxie’s season comes to an 17-8 end. The teams had last played each other in the 2015 season.
“They’re not on our schedule,” King said. “They’ve been a Class 2 school the last several years and so this year with the new enrollment, they were Class 3 and yeah, it’s always neat to play somebody different. They had a great year. They’re a good ball team. They had 17 wins. I told the guys that you don’t get 17 wins and not be any good. They’ve battled well and they’ve got some of those kids coming back. They’re going to continue to be good. It’s nice to get a win, it’s nice to be alive this time of the year.”
Meanwhile, Friday night’s semifinal opponents are on much more familiar terms.
Since 2010, Seneca and Mount Vernon have faced each other 15 times on the hardwood with Mount Vernon winning 12, including seven in a row. This will be the sixth time during that span the teams have faced each other at districts.
“They’re good,” King said. “They’re not the No. 1 team for nothing, Mount Vernon’s good and we’re going to have to play really well to beat them. We had a nice battle in December, I think they beat us by four (54-50 at Seneca), and then they’ll be ready. Of course, (Mount Vernon head coach) Mike (Ray) does a great job with them. They’ve got great players. We’re going to have to be at our best.
“Mount Vernon and Seneca’s had a lot of good battles over the years, especially in districts, and I hope we have another great one Friday night.”
On Wednesday night against Sarcoxie, junior big man Brennen Yust led the way for the Indians with 16 points, most of which came on free throws. He singlehandedly seemed to get Sarcoxie into foul trouble, although he was not alone for the Indians.
Preston Armstrong scored all 11 of his points in the first half and Henning scored all 11 of his points in the second half, making for a nice symmetry, at least for Seneca. Payton Armstrong finished with eight points and Isaiah Grotjohn and Gavin Clouse each had six to round out Seneca’s point production and balanced offensive attack.
Michael Misner led Sarcoxie with 10 points and Spencer Caddick netted eight before fouling out.