Steve Fritz (3) scores for the Blue Dragons in
1988 first-round NJCAA tournament game against Chipola,
Looking on is HCC's William Davis (44).
The Hutchinson Blue Dragons finally
found the pot of gold on Saturday, March 20, 1988.
After years and years of coming up
short when it came to the NJCAA Tournament, the Blue Dragons ended
all of that talk.
Steve Fritz, a future United States
Olympian, converted a three-point play with 22 seconds remaining to
give Hutchinson a 76-74 victory over Kankakee, Ill., in the 1988
national championship game at the Sports Arena for the Blue Dragons
first-ever national championship in men’s basketball.
Hutchinson, making its third
appearance in the NJCAA Tournament championship game, put the
finishing touches on its most successful season in the 57-year
history of the program. The Dragons won a school-record 37 games,
while losing just two. Now the Dragons can add a national
championship to its long and storied history.
“We are a very fortunate basketball
team,” said HCC head coach David Farrar, who led the Dragons to a
national championship in just his second season at Hutch. “Kankakee
had the hardest playing team I’ve seen in the two years I’ve been
Kankakee used its superior quickness
to force Hutchinson into 14 turnovers and 43-percent shooting from
the field in the first half. The Cavaliers led by as many as 12
points in the first half, but the play of Reggie Morton helped the
Dragons pull within five, 39-34, at halftime.
“We were very fortunate to be within
five at halftime,” Farrar said. “We couldn’t do much technique-wise.
We just had to get more physical. It was pretty important for us to
get off to a good start in the second half.”
The Dragons did just that. Maurice
Brittian slammed a dunk home with 16 minutes, 55 seconds left to
five HCC its first lead. The Dragons led by as many as five before
Kankakee rallied back to take the lead. Neither team led by more
than three points the rest of the way.
Kankakee was on the verge of ending
Hutchinson’s hopes of a first national title when the Cavaliers had
the ball and a three-point lead with 2:30 left in the game.
Fritz came up with the two biggest
plays in the tournament for
Hutchinson. Kankakee took a 71-68 lead on a basket by Andy Kpedi.
The Dragons missed on their next possession and the Cavaliers pulled
down the rebound. Fritz stole the ball and converted a layup to pull
Hutch within one at 71-70 with 1:50 left.
Kpedi was fouled and hit one free
throw to put Kankakee up 72-70. Reggie Morton, who had his best game
of the tournament for Hutch, hit a 3-point field goal with 1:10 left
to five HCC a 73-72 lead.
Kankakee came right back and took a
74-73 lead with 55 seconds to go on Maurice Lamar basket. What
happened next put Fritz’s name firmly entrenched into Blue Dragon
Fritz found a seam in Kankakee’s zone
defense and drove to the hoop. He hit a bank shot from the left side
and was fouled with 22 seconds to go. Fritz, an 80-plus percent free
throw shooter, calmly sank the free throw to give HCC a 76-74 lead.
“I wasn’t even thinking about it at
the time,” Fritz said. “I hadn’t played well until that time. I just
tried to relax as much as possible.”
Kankakee still had 22 seconds left.
After taking a pair of timeouts with eight seconds left, the Cavs
decided to go for the win.
Andre Tate’s 3-point attempt hit the
back of the rim and bounced over the backboard and out of bounds
with 1 second remaining. The Hutchinson crowd erupted and littered
the floor with toilet paper after Kankakee called a timeout.
While the fans celebrated, the
officials discussed whether to call a technical foul on the Dragons
because the crowd threw debris on the floor before the game’s
completion. There was a five-minute discussion before it was
determined that it was a neutral floor and no technical was
The national championship was finally
owned by the Blue Dragons.
“This really means a lot,” Fritz
said. “It’s hard to imagine that from over 500 schools, we are the
The Dragons did not shoot well in the
first half, but missed only six shots in the second half. William
Davis capped off a brilliant tournament and HCC career with 17
points and 11 rebounds. Morton led the Dragons with 20 points,
hitting four 3-pointers. Brittian finished with 13 points.
The Dragons broke two school records.
One was for the most wins in one season at 37 and the other was
points scored in the season at 3,240.
“It’s been a long year,” Farrar said.
“What this means is that nine kids invested time and energy toward a
goal. They reached all four of their goals. They sacrificed
themselves to play as a unit. They proved to be the most consistent
team in basketball.”
The Dragons also reaped the top
individual tournament awards. Brittian was named the 1988
tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Brittian averaged 13 points per
game during the tournament, but was intimidating on defense as well.
Brittian, Davis and Fritz were all
named to the All-Tournament team. Davis averaged 17.5 points and 8
rebounds per game, both HCC highs for the tournament. Fritz averaged
11.7 points per game.
Farrar was named the Coach of the
After defeating Independence in the
Region 6 championship game, the Dragons played Chipola, Fla., in the
first round of the 1988 NJCAA Tournament. Despite some tense moments
down the stretch, the Blue Dragons held on for a 70-64 victory. The
Dragons built a 58-40 lead with 6:50 left in the game, but the
Dragons grew tentative on offense in the final minutes and Chipola
climbed back into the ballgame.
Behind the play of Karl Brown and
Gary Brown, Chipola drew within five, 65-60 with 57 seconds left.
HCC freshman Cody Walters hit one of two free throws and was fouled
again, but missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Fritz grabbed
the rebound and scored with 26 seconds left.
Davis led a balanced HCC attack with
15 points. Fritz and Kevin Howard added 12 each. The Dragons shot 56
percent from the field.
HCC earned a spot in the national
semifinals with a hard-fought 97-90 victory over Shelby State,
Tenn., in a second-round matchup. The Dragons led 50-32 at halftime,
shooting 69 percent from the field and 14 of 17 from the foul line.
After shooting only 38 percent in the first half, Shelby State
started heating up in the final 20 minutes. But Hutch maintained its
lead hitting 20 of 27 free throws in the second half. Davis has 17
points, while Brittian and Fritz had 16 each. Shaun Vandiver came
off the bench to score 14 and Howard had 10. HCC shot 63 percent for
The Dragons defeated Mattatuck,
Conn., 86-63 in Friday night’s semifinals to earn a berth in the
national title game for the third time. The others were in 1949 and
1973. Hutchinson shot 64 percent from the field and defensively
controlled Mattatuck’s 6-foot-10 Brent Dabbs. Hutch took control
early with leads of 8-0, 26-14 and 41-25 in the first half.
Mattatuck stayed within 11 points for the first five minutes of the
second half, but Hutch went on an 8-2 run over the next three
minutes to go up 62-45 with 12:15 left.
Davis scored 21 points to lead
Hutchinson against Mattatuck. Brittian and Vandiver had 14 points