EMPORIA — As they led their postgame handshake lines, it was impossible not to fixate on Maize's Ryan Schultz and Leavenworth's Nino Williams.
They went toe-to-toe during Leavenworth's 51-49 win in the Class 6A quarterfinals at White Auditorium, and one last look at the two couldn't be taken for granted. It was fitting that they embraced in a quick hug, since the two forwards — one ticketed for Division I basketball, the other likely to play at a junior college — expended so much energy that the only ending that made sense was a show of admiration.
"We'd been going at it all game, so it was a respect thing," Schultz said. "I told him good luck with going to prep school next year and then to Kansas State. I told him to represent for the kids from Kansas."
Schultz got the better of Williams for the first three quarters, and Maize led for virtually all that time. Williams was in foul trouble, and while he showed flashes of being a future Big 12 player, he wasn't making as much of a difference as teammates Grant Greenberg and Kyle Wiggins.
In the fourth, the duel between Schultz and Williams intensified. They combined to score 13 of the quarter's 18 points, and baskets by Williams against Schultz proved crucial.
After Schultz scored to give Maize a 44-40 lead less than a minute into the fourth quarter, Williams posted up Schultz on the left block. He backed into Schultz, then spun to his right. Schultz tried to draw a charge but no call was made and Williams had an easy basket.
Schultz slapped the floor, more disappointed that he hadn't met the challenge of playing Williams 1-on-1 than about the no-call.
"I wish I would have stayed straight-up on him," Schultz said. "He was doing a good job, and I was trying to force him to hit tough jump shots. It was working for most of the night. I was more upset that I should have stayed in front of him and kept my hands up and forced a tough jump shot."
Williams finished with 18 points and five rebounds and Schultz notched 12 points and eight rebounds. But the 6-foot-5 Maize senior, who had given the Eagles an early lift, also could have gotten the best of Williams at the end.
Eagles coach Chris Grill called a timeout with 1:05 to go to set the offense, and Luke Langley took what would have been a go-ahead three-pointer with 13 seconds on the clock. Schultz got the rebound but was tied up and possession went back to Maize.
Schultz missed two shots before the buzzer. First, a runner in the lane was blocked out of bounds by Williams, then Schultz couldn't get by the lanky, 6-foot-5 Williams as Schultz missed a shot from inside the three-point line.
"I felt like I was grabbed by another guy, but that's fine because we got another possession," Schultz said. "(On the last shot) I tried to get my feet together, it just wasn't meant to be."
Williams scored nine points in the fourth and established his superiority over Schultz. But barely.
"I thought he was a really good player," Williams said. "He played hard and he's one of the best players I played against all year. I really respected him."
Heights 56, Manhattan 41 — Two years ago, Heights coach Joe Auer would have pinpointed a number on a stat sheet that he felt gave his team an advantage. Then he would have spent time stressing the important digit to his team and what happened next would have been anybody's guess.
Auer doesn't have to guess anymore. His starting lineup features one senior, but Auer carries with him a trust of his team that only winning can create. The Falcons took the first step toward defending their Class 6A title by beating Manhattan on Friday in the quarterfinals.
The number Auer stressed before Thursday's game was free throws. Manhattan made a combined 41 in beating City League teams East and Southeast in sub-state games, so Auer stressed in-your-face defense that pushed Manhattan's three-point shooters well beyond the arc but didn't initiate much contact.
Manhattan took three free throws, missed 16 three-pointers and the message Auer delivered in this week's practices was received. Not that he ever had a doubt.
"My job is typically done in practice," Auer said. "When we get to the game, it's about players making plays. Players win games. Coaches have great practices, and I think our kids exemplify that. When we get to a game night, it's all about the kids on the floor, and I turn it over to them after practice."
Heights was led by sophomore center Perry Ellis, who scored 17 points and had 17 rebounds. Dreamius Smith added 14 points and Evan Wessel scored eight points and had eight rebounds.