VALLEY CENTER – There isn’t much creativity to Alex Martin’s free-throw approach. The 6-foot-7 senior from Maize South toes the line with his right foot, takes three dribbles and spins the ball in his hands before making an attempt.
But what Martin lacked in originality, he compensated for with accuracy by hitting 11 of 12 free throws in Maize South’s 78-36 win at Valley Center. The semifinal win advanced the Mavericks (6-2) to Saturday’s tournament championship game against Northwest (5-4), which beat Turner 63-54 in Friday’s other semifinal.
While Martin and his teammates won’t have much time to savor the win, they did earn it. Martin scored 19 points – 11 at the foul line – as the Mavericks turned a tightly-called game to their advantage.
Valley Center committed its seventh team foul with 2:24 left in the first quarter, giving Maize South the rest of the half to convert free-throw opportunities. The Mavericks hit 12 of 14 foul shots in the first half and finished 24 for 31 as a team.
“It wasn’t much of an adjustment (from the game plan),” Maize South coach Kip Schultz said. “We try to do that every game. Alex took the game plan to heart and executed his job.”
Martin won every match up Valley Center threw at him. Starting forward Blake Crager picked up his fourth foul three minutes into the second half and backup Dustin Johnson did the same on the next possession.
Martin used Crager’s fourth foul to convert a three-point play. He hit his final two free throws later in the quarter.
“I’ve been working on that a lot,” Martin said of his free-throw attempts. “Coach makes us hit 50 in practice, and I’ll stay after to practice more.”
Junior point guard Peyton Ricks played a significant role in taking advantage of Valley Center’s physical defense. He scored the first two points of the game by creating the first of many Hornet turnovers, then spent much of the evening handing out assists to Martin and Kade Kordonowy.
“Tonight I think Ricks was the key in that,” Schultz said. “Once he started to get going, they can’t come over to help and that opened it up for the others. And then Alex had one of his best games he’s ever played. He’s the best shooter on the team right now.”
Maize South shot 54.2 percent (26 of 48) from the field, while Valley Center was limited to 31.1 percent (14 of 45). The Hornets hit 3 of 17 three-point attempts and turned the ball over far too often to establish any offensive rhythm.
Ricks finished with a game-high 21 points, including a 4-for-5 night from the free throw line. Kordonowy added 12 points on 6 of 8 shooting from the field.
Senior Carson Lee came off the bench to lead Valley Center with eight points.
Richard, Nick Williams and Braylyn Stanford combined the hit five threes in a three-minute span in the third quarter to fight off Turner. Still trailing by three heading to the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies pulled away with help from sophomore John Short, who struggled with foul trouble most of the night but hit back-to-back threes in the fourth quarter that highlighted a 12-0 run.
Turner, meanwhile, went cold in the fourth quarter, hitting 2 of 13 shots from the field over the last eight minutes.
Richard finished with a game-high 17 points. Junior Geron Thomas led Turner with 14.