Far removed from their sizzling start Saturday night at Koch Arena, East’s boys found themselves in a fourth-quarter fight with Maize South.
The Blue Aces’ 20-point lead was reduced to five, and the boisterous Mavericks student section provided the best indicator of which team owned momentum.
Then East’s Zach Jackson got the ball near the basket.
“I knew we needed a bucket,” Jackson said. “It didn’t matter who it came from. It just happened to be me in that situation.”
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Jackson powered his way to a three-point play, then added two free throws seconds later as the Aces held off Maize South 64-59 in the final game of the three-day challenge between City League and Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League schools.
East, No. 2 in the Class 6A coaches rankings, improved to 7-0 with a City League showdown awaiting Tuesday against Heights. But Maize South (4-2) kept East from looking ahead with a strong second-half comeback.
“What it tells us is we’re not 100 percent where we want to be yet,” East coach Joe Jackson said. “Without us jumping out and executing fairly well in the first half, we would have been in some serious trouble right there.”
Zach Jackson’s five points in the final minute capped a game-high 23-point performance. His first six points came in the first quarter, when East built a 25-14 lead by making 10 of 12 shots, including 5 of 7 from three-point range.
Each came from a different East player, including reserves Raymond O’Day, Mark Hartley and Sam Eckels.
“The first half, we played really good ball,” Zach Jackson said. “We don’t usually start off slow or anything, so we weren’t a stranger to it. We were just disappointed how we came out in the second half because we really felt like we could’ve kept them down.”
East, which also got 12 points from Xavier Kelly, led 41-22 at halftime and 48-28 after Jackson’s two free throws with 4:16 remaining in the third. But Maize South junior Seth Jennings stemmed the tide with the first of his two three-pointers.
When Jennings hit his second, the Mavericks had cut East’s lead to 53-44 with 4:34 to play.
“I can’t really pinpoint anything other than we almost gave them too much credit,” Maize South coach Kip Schultz said. “We knew we could do some things to hurt them. The problem was they came out and hit five threes and shot lights out.
“At halftime, we just discussed being prideful.”
The Mavericks found multiple sources to make their run.
Junior Payten Ricks finished with 14 points, senior Cole Koster added 12 and senior Kade Kordonowy had 10. They pulled within 58-53 on Logan Mormando’s three with 1:20 remaining.
After East freshman Michael McKinney missed a free throw, Maize South had a chance to inch closer. But Mormando missed a three, then Jackson countered by powering in a shot off the backboard as Maize South’s Alex Martin fouled.
“Zach’s been our guy this year,” Joe Jackson said. “He leads guys in the weight room. He’s very mentally tough.
“He gets on guys if they’re not doing what they’re supposed to in practice. It’s great to have a leader on the floor like that.”
MAIZE SOUTH: Koster 12, Ricks 14, Mormando 5, Kordonowy 10, Martin 8, Jennings 6, Lee 4.
EAST: Jones 8, Caw 6, Jackson 23, Kelly 12, McKinney 4, O’Day 3, Kelly 2, Eckels 3, Hartley 3.