By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
There was a time when the St. Mary’s-Colgan Panthers and the Frontenac Raiders arguably had the most heated rivalry in Kansas.
While the flame was never extinguished, expanded playoffs in football, changes in classifications and a dominant run by Colgan in the 2000s certainly cooled things down.
Wins by the Raiders over the past year in baseball and football fed this longtime rivalry, and it will continue tonight as Frontenac will be at Colgan for a boys basketball game that will go a long way in determining the CNC champion.
“The rivalry really never went away,” Frontenac coach Doug Barto said. “For a few years, we didn’t really hold up our end of the bargain. But you can always expect a tough, competitive game. I grew up watching this rivalry. I even played in it back in the stone ages. It will always be competitive.”
Colgan (13-3, 4-0 CNC) is the only unbeaten team in the league but must face all three one-loss teams — Frontenac, Galena and Riverton — over the next three games. Frontenac (11-6, 4-1 CNC) is trying to win its first league since finishing as co-champion with Colgan in 2003-04.
The gym at Colgan is expected to be full, but the crowd won’t be the typical sea of black and blue. The game is serving as a benefit to St. Mary’s fifth-grader Payton Kannarr, who is battling leukemia. Orange T-shirts are being sold to show support for Kannarr.
“It’s going to be packed,” Colgan coach Wayne Cichon said. “It’s going to be a big event for her. Hopefully it will raise her spirits. And then it’s Frontenac. It will be a big crowd.”
The Panthers certainly have plenty of motivation. Frontenac beat Colgan 5-2 in last year’s Class 3A baseball regional and went on to win the state title. This past fall, the Raiders defeated Colgan in football for the first time since 1997 with a 26-25 overtime thriller.
“The rivalry has gained a lot of momentum from the past two years,” Colgan senior Conner Dayton said. “It’s not just the outcomes, but how the games went. It’s been escalated.”
Colgan beat Frontenac 66-54 to open the basketball season, but neither team thinks that game has much significance. The Raiders were without Blake Barto and Devon Keith, and the Panthers were minus seniors V.J. Piccini and Grant Normand. Plus, both teams have improved significantly.
“Frontenac has gotten a lot better,” Piccini said. “Players will be back. We’ll have to prepare differently.”
The Panthers are coming off a 64-42 win over Baxter Springs. Colgan is led by 6-4 senior Dyson Dechant, who averages 22.9 points and 8.5 rebounds. Junior Luke Marquardt averages 16.9, and Austin Commons contributes 15.3 points a game.
“We have three kids in double digits, but we have several kids who are very capable,” Cichon said.
The Raiders are coming off a 42-41 loss at the buzzer to Galena. Frontenac needs a win tonight in order to stay in the CNC race.
“That amplifies things,” Frontenac guard Avery Coronado said. “We haven’t won the CNC in a long time. This is a big game.”
Frontenac has several players who are capable of having big nights. Coronado scored 35 in a win against Lamar. Barto, Keith, Dylan Clark and others also are capable of having big nights. The Raiders like to work the ball inside, setting up opportunities for Coronado and others from the perimeter.
“We feel like this is a great challenge for us,” Dechant said. “But we always want the challenge. We’ll be ready for it.”
“It’s a big game because we both control our own destiny,” Barto said. “We want to be remembered as the class to get things going for Frontenac again.”
The Colgan and Frontenac girls will play before the boys’ game. Colgan won the first meeting of the season between the two teams but has lost its past six games. The Raiders are 4-1 in the CNC and are looking to repeat as champions.