By TYLER HENRY
Little Apple Post contributor
After collecting big wins on opening night the Cowboys and Mustangs will meet in Abilene on Tuesday for a rematch of last year’s thrilling sub-state championship game.
The fourth-ranked Cowboys began their season in style with a convincing 73-52 dismantlement of the Smoky Valley Vikings, with team effort winning the day for Abilene.
“Our guys played hard in that first game,” Cowboy head coach Erik Graefe said. “We had a lot of guys that we wanted to get on the floor, we have a lot of guys that we think deserve time and we’ve been demanding of them on the defensive end but we were pleased with what we saw.”
To the northeast Rock Creek kicked off their campaign with a thrilling 55-53 overtime win over Clay Center, that saw David Wilkinson play the part of the hero with the game-winner in OT.
“I thought we did a pretty good job defensively,” first-year Mustang head coach Justin Smith said. “Clay Center is going to be able to score a lot of points this year and I thought we did a pretty good job making it tough on them.
As these two turn their attention to one another, fans of both sides can’t help but recall a thrilling 64-57 overtime sub-state final between these two that saw Abilene punch their ticket to state to stave off a Rock Creek upset.
Despite that bittersweet end to their season, the Mustangs remain more committed to their present goals, rather than living in a moment that has already come to pass.
“I don't think we think of this as a revenge game,” Smith said. “This is a new season, with new teams. I do believe we are creating a little bit of a rivalry and I believe that we will have some competitive games going forward.”
With Rock Creek set to join the NCKL that rivalry seems all but certain to emerge as these familiar foes continue to battle year after year.
“We’ve played Rock Creek for a long time and this is becoming a rivalry for sure,” Graefe said. “I like playing them because they’re good, they’re well-coached, they challenge you and they show you what you need to do differently.”
Praise for the other program has been high on both sides ahead of this matchup, as each looks to remain undefeated early in the year.
“Abilene is long, athletic, and they can really shoot the ball,” Smith said. “We’re going to have to do a better job rebounding and getting out to shooters and we’re going to have to shoot the ball better.”
On the other side of the matchup, patience will have to be a virtue for the Cowboys, who are still sorting out their rotation early in the season.
“We have to be patient both offensively and defensively because they will be,” Graefe said. “They attack the paint and try to get you off their feet. We can’t take the first shot we get off the first pass, we have to move the ball around and get better looks.”
Tip-off between the Cowboys and Mustangs is set for 7:30 pm at Abilene High School following the girl's game at 6:00.
For continuing coverage of all four teams, all season long stay tuned to the Salina and Little Apple Posts and follow us on Twitter @spostsports.