Erie High School made history after winning the Class 2A Sub-State Basketball Championship on Saturday at Yates Center. The Red Devils are heading to Manhattan Thursday for the state tournament.
After an emphatic 65-44 victory over Northeast Arma High School on Saturday evening, the Red Devils advanced to State for the first time since 1993. Saturday was also the first time since 2007 the team had competed for a Sub-State Championship.
“I think it feels great for them,” eighth-year head coach Nick Pfeifer said. “I kind of consider it a sense of satisfaction. Obviously it’s exciting and we are so happy for them. They have put in a ton of work. And not just this year, but in the summertime and previous years.
“And it’s really not even just these guys who have gotten us here, but the continual improvement of our program that goes back to people before them since I’ve gotten here and have continued to move our program in a positive direction. And those people have an impact on what we are doing this year as well. It’s definitely long years of improvement and finally, we’re able to have the opportunity this year as well.”
The Red Devils — a group of seniors that have a combined 64-25 record and a team that has not had a losing season since 2016 — were able to have an opportunity because of how consistently they’ve played this year. Erie enters the first round of the state playoffs having won four in a row. And the win streak is thanks to averaging 60 points per game on 46 percent shooting, grabbing 30.1 rebounds, dishing out 13.8 assists, stealing the ball 7.8 times a game, and blocking the rock 3.1 times a contest.
The leading scorer on the team is returning All-Tri-Valley senior guard Matthew Vail, who is averaging 14.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and two steals a game. He also shoots the ball at 33 percent from downtown, having made 35 buckets on the year.
The Red Devils’ second-leading scorer is junior guard Mark Bogner, who averages 13.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and just north of an assist per game. Bogner has produced the most 3s on the team, racking up 57 at a 45-percent clip. The last two games, Bogner has had 18 points and four 3s, leading his team to the wins needed to get to the state playoffs for the first time in nearly three decades.
Sophomore forward Eric Dillinger is a workhorse down low, one who will get his hands ready for a dish from one of those guards before laying it up strong. Dillinger averages 8.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and a block and an assist a game.
These three players lead the way on both ends of the floor. On defense, these student-athletes hang their hats on preventing would-be slashers to the rim who try direct line drives to the basket, playing man and zone defense. With the help from the guards, Dillinger uses his 6’5” height to contest those who attempt easy baskets.
But the defensive end isn’t secure until the last step is done.
“Rebounding is so crucial,” Pfeifer said. “You’ve got to be able to win the boards and you’ve got to be able to limit teams to one possession.”
On offense, Erie is a frenetic, motion team, but also runs a bevy of sets. These sets come to life thanks to the skill-work repetitions the Red Devils do in practice.
“We try to get guys in positions to be successful. We want to let our guys play,” Pfeifer said. “...We want to have guys that are capable of making plays in the game and I think that gives you the best chance. If you have good players, you allow those players to make good plays, then good things can happen.”
But good things also happen when a sufficient plan is put in place based on the strengths of the opposition. Erie will play Sterling (19-4), a team that is disciplined on the defensive end of the floor, which has translated into holding teams to less than 40 points the last three games.
Offensively, the Black Bears are highlighted by 6’6” junior Tyus Wilson, a good athlete and exceptional high-jumper.
“But it’s not just him,” Pfeifer said. “Those other guys are talented and can shoot the basketball a little bit, but most importantly, I think they do a great job of getting to the rim, or really getting to the paint and being able to finish plays in the paint, and get off the offensive glass as well.”
Wilson helps his team average 47 points a game. On the defensive end, Sterling gives up just 38 points a game.
“Hopefully we can go up there and compete hard, and maybe get to play this weekend,” Pfeifer said.
No. 4 Erie (19-4) will gear up for No. 5 Sterling in the 2A Boys State Basketball quarterfinals today at 4:45 pm at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan.