Leading up to Saturday’s Class 5 District 15 final against Liberty North, William Chrisman boys basketball coach Jake Kates added a unique aspect to his practices.
He played classical music from the Bach channel on Pandora Radio at the Bears’ home gym during the week of districts.
“It’s music I listened to before games in college,” Kates said. “So I was messing with them. We had the best week of shooting in practice, so we kept rolling with it.”
Chrisman may want to consider continuing that trend. The Bears outscored the Eagles 40-28 in the second half to capture a 76-61 win for their first district title since 2009.
Chrisman will play Park HIll South at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in the Class 5 sectional round.
“These guys come to work and do their jobs. This has been one of my funnest groups I’ve ever coached,” Kates said. “The culture has changed here. That started with Coach (Don Cameron) who was here before me.”
This year’s Chrisman team is the first to reach 19 wins since 2009 and is one win away from doubling its win total from the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons combined (10 wins in those two seasons).
“It’s just our mindset and how we carry ourselves now,” Chrisman senior guard Kelvyn Mason said when comparing this year’s Bears to the team to the struggling teams during his freshman and sophomore seasons. “We try to not get bothered by the small things and try to come together at the end.”
When Kates took out three of his starters with 46 seconds left, senior Dawson Herl embraced junior Marcus Wigfall with a hug. When the final buzzer sounded, seniors Caysen Woods and Jalen Moore leaped and gave each other a chest bump. It was a day to remember for these Bears.
“This was something I always wanted to accomplish since I was little, since I was in Bears Tomorrow and watched the varsity play,” Moore said. “It feels great.”
It wasn’t easy for Chrisman as it was locked in a back-and-forth battle with Liberty North.
The Bears (19-8) led 13-11 at the end of the first quarter and 36-33 halftime, thanks to a buzzer-beating, putback layup from freshman Ralph Covington, who hadn’t played many minutes at the varsity level. The first half featured six lead changes and the Bears were battling foul trouble with Herl and Moore limited with two fouls each.
The Bears and Eagles then traded the lead five times early in the third. Herl, who finished with 14 points and seven rebounds, kept the Bears in it with three consecutive driving layups.
Wigfall put the Bears ahead for good when he made a putback layup that sparked a 10-0 run midway through the period. The Bears went into the fourth up 52-43, but the Eagles cut the lead to five early. They stayed within single digits of the Bears until Chrisman guard Zachariah Rowe got a key steal and scored on a give-and-go with Wigfall to put Chrisman up 62-52. The Bears led by double digits the rest of the way.
“That was a big moment,” Mason said. “That gave us all the energy we needed to close the game out.”
Added junior guard Isaiah Jackson: “I was glad (Rowe) did that because I was winded and gassed.”
Jackson was a huge part of the win as he tallied a career-high 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
“Whatever the team needed, I am here to do whatever,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t matter if I score zero points, I just want to get the win and get the championship.”
Added Kates: “It’s about my time. We’ve been trying to get (Jackson) going like that all year long because very few teams have people that can guard him.”
When asked about how he’d celebrate the Bears’ first title in 10 years, Kates said he wouldn’t. He still has work to do.
“I am going to go home and watch some film on Park Hill South,” Kates said with a smile.