The two years before the 2017-18 season, the William Chrisman boys basketball program had just 10 wins combined in two seasons.
The program was struggling.
But in Friday’s Class 5 District 15 championship game, first-year head coach Jake Kates and his Bears found themselves in the district finals for the first time since 2009.
That year, Chrisman won the district title, and it had a chance to win another one Friday.
It certainly looked feasible going into the fourth quarter as the Bears led 41-40. But the offensive rebounding of Liberty and a tumultuous three minutes for the Bears led to a 63-49 defeat at Truman High School.
It didn’t take long for Liberty to retake the lead as Brock Matson hit a jumper off an assist from Logan Steenstra to make it 42-41. After Chrisman missed on the other end, Liberty guard Jordan McClellan got another jumper to fall for a 3-point lead.
When the Bears got it back, senior forward Daniel Carson tried to muscle his way toward the basket in the post but was called for an offensive foul as Tavis Turner went flying backward.
When Liberty got it back, Chrisman sophomore guard Isaiah Jackson stole the ball and had a wide-open fast-break layup. He didn’t get it to fall, however, and the Blue Jays took advantage. Matson hit a 3-pointer to make it 47-41 in a sequence that resulted in a five-point swing.
That was part of a 11-0 run for Liberty to start the fourth. A trio of offensive rebounds led to points for the Blue Jays and they hit 10 of their final 11 free throw shots to keep Chrisman at bay.
The Bears didn’t get any closer than six after falling behind by double digits and they shot just 2 of 13 from the floor in the final eight minutes.
“We gave up too many offensive rebounds in the fourth,” Kates said. “Liberty is a good team. We played well, but sometimes you win and sometimes you lose even when you play well. The guys really got after it and did what we asked.”
Chrisman played Liberty tough in the first three quarters. Chrisman junior guard Kelvyn Mason, who had a team-high 14 points, put in seven in the first quarter, including a 3-pointer with Steenstra in his face as his team took a 13-9 lead in the first.
Liberty hit a trio of 3-pointers to bounce back and win the second quarter 17-11 to take a 26-24 halftime lead. Their all-time leading scorer, Jalen Lewis, powered the offense with 11 of his game-best 23 points in the first half, including a pair of NBA-range 3-pointers.
Liberty extended its lead to 32-27 early in the third, and led by as many as six in the period when Lewis hit a three from the left corner to make it 40-34.
Chrisman stormed back with a 7-0 run capped by a 3-pointer from reserve guard Alexander Calhoun, and it appeared that shot may give the Bears momentum heading into the fourth. But it didn’t happen for them.
Chrisman enjoyed a nice turnaround this year as it won more games than the last two years combined, finishing 11-16.
“To think about where we were a year ago and two years ago, I am extremely proud of these guys,” Kates said. “We are starting to build a solid foundation here. Hopefully the idea of unity and team basketball was passed down from this year’s seniors to the juniors and then the juniors will pass it down to the sophomores.
“I am excited for the future. We have a lot of talented young guys. This year we learned how to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. These guys know that I love them and I am not just a stranger that came in to coach.”