Down one in overtime to the defending state champions, Caleb Grill proved a spot in the state tournament will likely go through Maize.
He caught the ball at the top of the key. He looked to set up the offense for a play the Eagles designed during the preceding timeout, but he was given too much space. He took the shot and buried a three-pointer. It was Maize’s only field goal in overtime and the only one it needed in a 56-52 win against Bishop Carroll.
In the deepest district in Kansas, Maize is the only undefeated team left.
“It’s going to be four out of the west when you get down to the state tournament, but honestly I was looking at the standings the other day, and I think it will be two teams from the west again in the final,” Grill said.
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Class 5A West is stacked this season. After Friday’s AVCTL/GWAL Challenge matchup, Maize sits at the top at 9-0. At least the next six teams have legitimate state championship potential. The three teams at Nos. 5, 6 and 7 all went to state championship games last year.
- Maize (9-0)
- Wichita Heights (8-1)
- Arkansas City (7-1)
- Andover Central (6-1)
- Salina Central (5-2)
- McPherson (6-3)
- Bishop Carroll (5-3)
Maize’s biggest weapon: a closer.
Not only does Grill make all four of his teammates on the floor better, he is one of the most clutch shooters in Kansas. His three in overtime against the Golden Eagles was another line on the resume.
In Maize’s past two games, the win over Carroll and a 55-43 win at Salina Central on Tuesday, Grill wasn’t the team’s leading scorer. Senior Brandle Easter Jr. was. Friday he finished with 19 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Half of those points came in the fourth quarter or overtime. Grill had 13 and only shot the ball four times.
But with the game on the line, the ball will be in No. 0’s hands.
“I’ve played with him for so long since middle school, and he still amazes me,” senior Chase Schreiner said. “The stuff he does on and off the court, he’s just a good guy, great player. It’s fun playing with him. I love it.”
If Maize hosts a sub-state tournament Feb. 23-March 2, the Eagles could run into the same fate that killed them last year.
Maize entered as the No. 3 team in 5A West. The Eagles reached the championship game but lost to No. 6 Salina Central 40-30 in one of the worst shooting nights of the year.
They won big games last year, like the one they had Friday. Maize beat Derby, Maize South, Wichita Southeast, Wichita Heights, Bishop Miege and Salina Central twice during the regular season.
Grill said it feels different this year.
“People are working a lot harder off practices and games,” he said. “A lot more people are coming up to open gym on Sundays, and when people aren’t there, other guys are texting them asking, ‘Hey where were you today?’ “
Almost every team in the top four of 5A West will be on upset alert come the postseason. If the regular season ended Friday, here are the most likely sub-state championship games without any upsets in the first round:
- No. 8 Hays at No. 1 Maize
- No. 7 Bishop Carroll at No. 2 Wichita Heights
- No. 6 McPherson at No. 3 Arkansas City
- No. 5 Salina Central at No. 4 Andover Central
Carroll coach Mike Domnick said that’s why the City League is such a great asset in which to play.
“We can beat Maize,” he said. “If we play them 10 times, I like to think we beat them at least five out of 10. I can’t worry too much about it other than trying to get the best record we can. We’ve got another gauntlet to go through.”
Maize is in the best spot. The Eagles are unlikely to go undefeated in one of the toughest leagues in Kansas. They still have to play Salina Central, Campus, Derby and Newton again.
But before midseason tournament season begins, Maize controls its destiny for the No. 1 seed, but coach Chris Grill said that might not matter.
“You’ve got to win two games to get to state, and they’re going to be two really good games,” he said. “Playing in games like we did tonight helps with our composure. It helps with our approach to those types of games.”