By John Miller
Springfield, Mo. – You’ve heard of Jared Ridder and Cameron Davis, but it could be guys like Travis Vokolek and Isaac Blakeslee that have Kickapoo in position to make a run at a Class 5 state championship this spring.
Division-I signees Ridder (Xavier) and Davis (Navy) get the headlines, but a balanced attack from Kickapoo’s “other guys” may elevate them past other teams in their path. Tuesday night’s rivalry match against Glendale proved why.
Kickapoo lit the nets at Drury’s O’Reilly Family Event Center in a 96-77 win over its top rival that was closer than the final score indicated. The Chiefs shot 57 percent from the floor (38 of 67) and 58 percent from 3 (14 of 24).
“We rolled the dice that they would pound it inside,” Glendale coach Brian McTague said. “Instead, they shot jump shots all night and made them anyway. When they shoot it like that, they’re really hard to beat.”
Ridder had 31 points and Davis had 29, but key contributions from Vokolek and Blakeslee helped pave the way for the Chiefs’ big win.
Vokolek, signed to play football at Rutgers, hyped the student section with two thunderous fourth-quarter dunks and pulled down nearly every rebound in sight. His ability to dominate the paint helped open up scoring opportunities for Ridder. Vokolek finished with 11 points and 13 boards.
“Travis is an ultra-competitor,” Kickapoo coach Dick Rippee said. “There’s no question that he’s a fighter. He does what we ask. … He’s been fantastic the last two games, just been a man on the boards.”
Blakeslee canned back-to-back 3s in the second quarter, part of a 17-4 rally by the Chiefs. He ended up 13 points and made 3-of-5 3-point attempts.
Kickapoo unselfishly worked the ball, finding the open man in good spots on nearly every offensive possession. The name of the player that made the basket didn’t seem to matter.
“We really preach ‘team,” Rippee said. “Our guys have a lot of confidence in each other. Cameron and Jared share get a lot of attention, and deservedly so, but Blakeslee and (Mitch) Closser and Vokolek and (Donyae) McCaskill and (Corey) Dye, and all these guys that we’re playing are doing a heck of a job for us.
“They’re guarding well. They’re rebounding well. They’re making an extra pass when they need to, and they’re stepping up and hitting big shots when they need to. That’s the sign of a team that’s got the right mindset.”
Monty Johal had 27 points for Glendale while teammate Jordan Walton added 22.
With the game tied 12-12 midway through the first quarter, the Chiefs put together an 11-2 run, capped off by a buzzer-beating tomahawk dunk from Ridder that put Kickapoo up 23-14.
Blakeslee opened the second with back-to-back 3s, and the rout looked to be on. But Glendale countered. Johal and Walton scored 17 combined points in the period, including a Walton four-point play before halftime that cut Kickapoo’s lead to 48-39.
Kickapoo stretched the lead to 18 in the third. The Chiefs made 10 of 18 shots, and Davis connected on three 3-point attempts in the period.
“He can do anything he wants to,” Brian McTague said. “He can get to the rim. He can shoot 10-footers. He can shoot 3s off the dribble or the catch. He’s a really good player. There’s a reason he’s going Division-I.
“Then you’ve got Ridder on the other side of the court (and) Big 10 football (Vokolek) in the middle of the floor. It’s a hard matchup.”
Glendale never quit. The Falcons began the fourth with an 8-0 run, pulling within 72-62 with seven minutes remaining. They forced four turnovers in the first two minutes of the period and scored on their first six possessions.
“We just competed,” McTague said. “We have got fire-power. We’re not out of any game. We’re going to lay it on the line and see what happens.”
After a Vokolek put-back dunk stretched the lead back to 74-62, Glendale scored six straight points, making it 74-68 with 5:10 to go.
“(Glendale) did an awful lot of right things,” Rippee said. “First of all, they didn’t miss a shot during that stretch. We got a little loose with the ball and had a few turnovers, but they were opportunistic. That’s a good team over there.”
But Kickapoo was too much. The Chiefs used a 9-1 run over the next minute to put the game away.
“I thought we did a nice job of keeping our poise,” Rippee said. “When you have five guys that played in a state championship game last year, they’ve been in big games and they’re prepared for it. I thought our experience kind of shined through there at the end.”
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Kickapoo 23 25 24 24 96
Glendale 14 25 15 23 77
Kickapoo: Ridder 31, Davis 29, Blakeslee 13, Vokolek 11, McCaskill 8, Closser 4, Dye 2
Glendale: Johal 27, Walton 22, Freeman 12, Davis 9, Call 4, Metivier 3