A three-year-long saga between the seniors on the Kapaun Mount Carmel and Heights boys basketball teams was settled Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A tournament in Topeka.
Every time the two sides meet, a fantastic game is ensured.
But none was better than the battle Thursday night in a game that featured four ties and six lead changes in the fourth quarter.
In the end, Heights emerged with a 54-51 victory to win the rubber match between the City League rivals. In fact, the last four times the teams have met the game has been decided on the final shot.
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This time, Joe Hickerson’s half-court heave was long and the Falcons advanced to their seventh state semifinal in the last eight seasons. They will meet Blue Valley West in Friday’s 8:15 p.m. matchup.
“The game speaks for itself,” Heights coach Joe Auer said. “It was a classic.”
Kapaun controlled the first three quarters, build a lead that reached 12 points in the first half. But like a magnetic pull, the two teams were fated for a close finish.
Heights rallied to tie the score midway through the fourth quarter, but Thomas O’Connor gave the Crusaders a 48-43 lead with 3:22 on a three-pointer made two feet beyond the line.
“We needed defensive stops and we needed rebounds after that,” Kapaun coach John Cherne III said. “We just weren’t able to do it.”
After Auer called a timeout to settle his team, they reeled off five straights to tie the game again, this time on a corner three from Davis Bahner, just his fourth of the season.
“I’ve been working on it more in practice and getting more confidence,” Bahner said. “I just let it go. It felt great. I still don’t think it’s hit me.”
From there, Heights produced a stop, then ran off over a minute of clock before scoring when Semaj Hervey drove and dished to Marquis McCray for a layup and a 50-48 lead with 33 seconds left.
O’Connor misfired on a three-pointer, Lowe extended the lead to four with free throws, then Atir Cherne connected on a three-pointer to pull Kapaun back to within one with 11 seconds left.
Heights missed the ensuing free throw, but McCray was there for the rebound and was fouled, making both of his free throws for a 54-51 lead with 1.7 seconds left.
“It’s just crazy because we hope every time going in that it’s not going to be a good game,” Heights senior Davon Gill said. “But it always ends up being a good game.”
The two teams have played eight times in the last three seasons. While Heights has won six of them, five have been decided on the final possession.
“It seems like we’re on the short end of the stick this time,” John Cherne said. “I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Both coaches regretted that the conclusion to the rivalry had to come in the first round of the state tournament.
“This was an incredibly personal game to me,” Auer said. “I’m a Kapaun parent. I go to church with those kids. Coach Cherne coached my son. I feel for those kids, but I couldn’t be more proud of mine.”
Maize South 60, Mill Valley 52 — There is a difference between thinking you’re good enough and knowing you’re good enough and the Maize South boys basketball team was caught in limbo before their debut at the Class 5A tournament.
The Mavericks won 20 games to reach their first state tournament in program history, but along with that came the uncertainty of it being the first time.
“We didn’t really know what we were walking into,” Maize South senior Alex Martin said.
Maize South showed some nerves along the way, but proved itself worthy in a victory over Mill Valley in the quarterfinals. The Mavericks (21-2) advance to play Bishop Carroll in Friday’s 4:45 p.m. semifinal.
“You want to feed that program and feed that confidence,” Maize South coach Kip Schultz said. “I think we stepped up big time today and I’ll promise you this, we’ll be ready to go (Friday).”
Maize South led for the final 30 minutes, peaking with a 14-point lead in the third quarter, but Mill Valley rallied behind the three-point stroke of freshman Cooper Kaifes, who came off the bench to connect on six three-pointers.
The final drew the Jaguars to within three, 55-52, with 49 seconds left, but Maize South answered right back by breaking the full-court pressure of Mill Valley on a possession where all five players touched the ball, ending with Martin flying high to grab an alley-oop pass and finish with an emphatic dunk.
“You’re going to have to take some chances to win some games here,” Schultz said. “And I’ll tell you right now, we’re ready to take as many chances as it takes to win another game.”
Payten Ricks led Maize South with 20 points, while Martin added 14.
“This is just another step,” Martin said. “We’re not done yet.”
Carroll 67, KC Washington 53 — On the drive to Topeka, Bishop Carroll coach Lonnie Lollar told a friend on the phone what his team would need to beat a Kansas City Washington team with a decided advantage in length and quickness.
“Connor Evans is going to need a Danny Manning-type effort,” Lollar said.
Evans delivered, scoring 18 points in the first quarter on his way to a career-high 34 — three shy of the Class 5A tournament record.
“Honestly, I felt really in the zone today,” Evans said. “I just did my thing and my teammates found me and I found them when they were open, and it just clicked for us.”
Carroll jumped out to a 13-5 lead, then Evans took over, scoring on five straight possessions, including back-to-back three-pointers, to cap an 18-point scoring binge in six minutes. The Eagles led 23-9 after the first quarter and never allowed their lead to dip below eight.
“That was just amazing to watch,” said teammate Patrick Carney, who scored 10 points. “It was like there wasn’t anybody that could guard him.”
Evans made 12 of his 16 field goal attempts and all eight of his free throws to score his career-high at the state tournament.
“Everyone knows that in the back of your head it could be your last game,” Evans said. “You just can’t play scared like that, though.”
“I’m so proud of him,” Lollar said. “I knew this kind of game was in him.”