Standing in an empty gymnasium in November, Brock Monty, the only known quantity returning to the Kapaun Mount Carmel boys basketball team, looked around at his teammates.
No one knew Chris Meitzner or his explosive first step. No one knew Thomas Wells or his outside shooting touch. No one knew anything about this team, making the Crusaders all but an afterthought.
“Looking around there, though,” Monty said, “we knew what we had and no one else did. We felt like we were going to fly under the radar.”
Anonymous no longer, Kapaun has the complete attention of Class 5A after stunning top-ranked and defending champion Heights on its home court in a 57-53 victory on Friday night that sends the Crusaders to the tournament in Topeka next week.
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“We were probably the only ones who believed in us,” said Monty, who scored 14 points. “But we believed. We always believed.”
That same cast of unknowns entering the season were the same ones that were creating havoc on Heights’ home court, making the Falcons look as discombobulated as they have been this season.
In the third quarter alone, Kapaun forced seven turnovers (Heights turned the ball over a season-high 20 times) and out-scored the Falcons 20-6 to turn a six-point halftime deficit into a 37-29 lead going into the fourth quarter.
“Worst quarter of basketball we’ve played all year,” Heights coach Joe Auer said. “We were just really weak with the basketball. They were up in us most of the night and we didn’t handle that well. Give a lot of credit to them, they took it from us.”
Heights has crippled opponents with a zone defense made devastating by the length of athletes Auer has at his disposal. But Kapaun, with expert ballhandling, not only handled the pressure, but exploited it to find open shots that Heights isn’t used to allowing.
Meitzner (20 points) was sharp in dissecting the zone with drives and cuts through its core and also canning two three-pointers. Paired with Monty, Mitchell Woodward (eight) and Wells (seven), Kapaun’s offense found the balance it needed.
“I think we were at little scared, or at least I was, there at the beginning,” Wells said. “But once we settled down and got to work, we kept the ball moving and our defense got more passionate. Our intensity picked up and we started getting stops.”
Kapaun never allowed Heights a possession with a chance to tie in the fourth quarter, although a desperate Heights rally in the final minute (capped by a three-pointer from Tyrell Andrews) gave it a chance, down two with 3.1 seconds remaining and Kapaun inbounding under its own goal.
On the play, Monty roamed the baseline then launched a pass over the outstretched hands of Davon Gill (game-high 23 points), but the ball hit the bottom of the backboard and deflected underneath the basket to Gill.
Referees whistled the play dead and after conferring, ruled that Gill had tipped the pass into the backboard and Kapaun was awarded possession again with 2.8 seconds left.
“I knew he tipped it,” Monty said. “I was just waiting to see. Thank God they called it how they did.”
Instead of a chance to tie the game underneath the basket, Heights had to foul and two Wells free throws sealed the much-shorter fate than many expected for the defending champions.
“It’s heartbreaking, but that’s sports,” Auer said. “You can’t step into the gym unless you can handle the outcome.”
KAPAUN: Meitzner 20, Monty 14, Woodward 8, Wells 7, Edminston 4, Oatsdean 2, Bell 2.
HEIGHTS: Gill 23, McCray 13, Davis 6, Williams 4, Andrews 3, Williams 2, Bahner 2.