By Greta Klein
Staff writer

The No. 11 seeded Hutchinson Blue Dragons took on the 19th-ranked Connors State for a spot in the NJCAA semifinals. Connors State gave the Hutch fans a result they did not want, as the Blue Dragons fell to the Cowboys 91-69. 

“We were extremely sluggish,” Blue Dragons coach Tommy DeSalme said. “We just looked like a pretty tired team and that’s part of the learning experience. We didn’t have a lot in the tank left from the nights before. We still had chances to win, but I give Connors State a lot of credit for their win.”

Throughout the Hutchinson Sports Arena, emotions were ramped up, as the stakes were high in achieving every team’s dream of winning a national championship. 

Hutchinson Community College's Dadrevius Weathers is consoled by coach Tommy DeSalme late in the second half of Hutchinson's 91-69 loss to Connors State Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the NJCAA Tournament at the Sports Arena.

In Hutch’s third game in three days, the Blue Dragons came out slow, only shooting 18 percent or 2 of 11 from beyond the 3-point arc. 

“(Connors State) was trying to keep us out of the paint,” sophomore John-Paul Ricks said. “They made us shoot long and contested shots. That was their game plan coming in. We were just unable to have those shots fall.”

At the beginning of the game, the Blue Dragons and Cowboys took turns with control of the game as the score was 7-6 in favor of Hutch. 

As the game progressed, the Cowboys started to guard the perimeter, and out-hustled the rebounding the Dragons 20-14 at half, as Connors State led the Blue Dragons 41-35. 

Despite being seeded at No. 19 in the tournament, Connors State had an impressive team and the record to back it up, as the Cowboys entered the game 33-2. 

In the second half, Hutch was unable to make a serious charge, after an strong shooting performance the night before against No. 6 Chipola. 

The Blue Dragons were able to find some points in the second half, but Connors State had an answer back for Hutch throughout the early part of the second half. 

The plan for Connors State was to get the ball down low and use the Cowboys’ physicality against the Blue Dragons. In the final stat line, Connors State outscored Hutch 52-36 in the paint.

For the Blue Dragons, Ricks finished the game with 22 points. Another notable night for the Blue Dragons was sophomore Kamryn Thomas, with 12 points.  

The 2023-2024 season will not be forgotten in Hutch as the Blue Dragons earned a 29-7 record that tied for the ninth most wins in a single season for the program. A third-place finish in the KJCCC regular season, along with finishing with the third most 3-point shots made in a single season in program history with 272, and a quarterfinal run in the NJCAA tournament, the Blue Dragons’ first since 2017. 

“It’s a bittersweet moment,” Thomas said. “This team went through a lot. People didn’t expect us to get this far. We overcame a lot through closed doors that a lot of people did not see. Looking back, I would not want to accomplish what we did at Hutch with anyone else.” 

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