ERIE – To say it’s been a long time coming might be an understatement. The Erie High School boys basketball team will compete in their first KSHSAA State Basketball tournament since 1993 this Thursday afternoon against 19-4 Sterling in the 1st round of the Class 2A State Basketball tournament.
Red Devil head coach Nick Pfeifer summed up the feeling in two words: joy and pride.
“I also felt a great deal of satisfaction for our players and staff, but also for all of our former players who have contributed so much to our program over the years. It was not the accomplishment of just this year, but of many teams, players and coaches working hard and improving our program.”
Including this season, this group of seniors at Erie has combined for a 64-25 record or a .719 winning percentage. Erie HS boys basketball has not had a losing season since 2016, or when this group was in middle or elementary school. Yet, a trip to State has alluded Pfeifer’s Red Devil’s, until this year.
Erie averages 46% field goal percentage this season while averaging 60 points per game. Defensively they give up around 46 points per game.
Senior Matthew Vail averages 14 points per game while leading the team in assists per game at just under 4 per game. Junor Mark Bogner also chips in with 14 points per game.
On the board junior, Dawson Lehman leads the team with 7 rebounds per game while sophomore Eric Dillinger, who averages close to 10 points per game, also grabs 6 rebounds per game.
With basketball being a grueling sport over the cold, dark months of winter, Pfeifer has found different ways to not only keep his team healthy, but also energized and enthusastic.
“Overall, we try to be creative and have some fun while still getting lots of reps in,” said Pfeifer. ” The leadership among our players goes a long way in making sure we are enthusiastic about coming in each day and preparing to be successful.”
This year was the first time since 2007 that the Red Devils competed for a Sub-State Championship. With the trip to State comes the excitement of playing in a Division 1 college basketball facility, for some the first trip out of town to a city like Manhattan, and staying in a hotel while being accustomed to new schedules. Pfeifer turned to his assistant coach for help in preparing for the trip to State.
“One of my best resources has been my assistant coach, Jamie Carlisle. He took a team from Baxter Springs to the state tournament, but overall he is just a tremendous teacher of the game and has been a blessing all year round. I cannot describe how much he has meant for us on this run.”
Pfeifer also credited Erie Football coach Eddie Kearns as well as other coaches in helping prepare him and the team for the trip before tip-off.
With Erie’s versatile shooting abilities and aggressive rebounding comes an equally balanced shooting and powerful at the glass team in Sterling. They are 19-4 overall and the number 5 seed. Pfifer noted Sterling’s defensive abilities as well as a towering figure that could pose some problems.
“They are well-coached and solid across the board. They are capable of scoring from all 5 positions with their leadings scorer being a very athletic 6’6″ Junior Tyus Wilson. The thing I think I have been most impressed about them is their defensive ability.”
The Black Bears averaged 47 points per game while giving up just 38 points.
“We are no doubt going to need to play well, but I think that we will be pleased with where we are at if we come out and guard hard and execute on the offensive end,” said Pfeifer.
Erie will tip-off against Sterling in the quarter-finals of the 2A Boys State Basketball tournament in Manhattan on Thursday at 4:45PM. Winner will advance to play a guaranteed 2 more games while the loser’s season is done.