The Maize South girls basketball team has shed a lot of tears over the past four days.
The Mavericks found another reason Friday night, about an hour ahead of their sub-state championship game against Salina Central. Senior Zayda Perez was ruled free to play.
Perez was deemed ineligible Tuesday as the Kansas State High School Activities Association after an initial review of her transfer paperwork from Valley Center to Maize South revealed though she moved in with her father full-time, her father did not move to a new address. By rule, the transfer was not bona fide.
The story spread across the country. ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas even weighed in, supporting Perez. Friday afternoon, KSHSAA looked at the paperwork again, coach Ben Hamilton said, and ruled her as a “partial transfer.”
Maize South will be penalized six losses for the six games Perez played during the first semester of the 2018-19 school year, which knocks the Mavs from 22-0 and the No. 1 seed to 16-6 and the No. 6 seed.
“I just could not be happier for her,” Hamliton said. “I love Zayda to death, and she knows that. To see her cry when she heard the news today was just incredible to watch because I’ve watched her cry for the last three days nonstop. They were tears of joys today.”
Perez said she wasn’t expecting to play Friday night. On the latest VK Pod, she said she was “expecting the worst,” out of the situation. So when Maize South athletic director Curt Klein told her the news, she was overcome with emotion, she said.
“I started crying,” she said. “Ben starting hugging me. My mom started crying. It was just insane. ... It was just really good to be back on the court with my girls.”
Perez thanked the thousands of people who have weighed in on her case and supported her. She said it’s hard to put into words, but her smile as she was announced as a starter Friday said it all.
The Mavericks went on to beat Salina Central 61-44 and have clinched their spot in the Class 5A girls basketball state tournament. Perez said to be a high school athlete again means so much.
“This was definitely unforgettable,” she said. “Words can’t describe how thankful I am for all those people who supported me through all of this when I was just a girl from Valley Center going to Maize South. I didn’t think it would be this huge thing, but it means so much to know that people have my back and have their opinions about high school basketball.”
The next chapter
Almost every person in the Wichita Southeast basketball program has been doubted, but for a moment they were silenced on Friday.
The Golden Buffaloes clinched their first sub-state championship in three years Friday night with an emphatic 78-56 win over Campus. The last time they won it, first-year coach Joe Mitchell was a player on the 2008 team.
He got his hands on another trophy and said it felt different.
“I have no kids,” Mitchell said. “I look at all these boys as my children. To see your son or daughter succeed in something we’ve been going through for three months of hard work, practice and preaching, to see us reach one of our goals, it feels really good.”
Mitchell, a Southeast great, took over the program a couple of weeks ahead of the season opener. Players had moved in and out, including Israel Barnes who graduated and sophomore Shawn Warrior who lined up against his former team, wearing a Campus uniform.
Sophomore Jackie Johnson III arrived at Southeast ahead of the end of last year’s basketball season after a falling out at North. And junior Micah Jacques, though he was named to the City League’s first team, hadn’t been the No. 1 option on a title-contending team.
Southeast lost its regular-season finale to Wichita South, the same team that beat the Buffaloes on its home floor in the sub-state championship last year. Friday, they proved this group is different, Johnson said.
“They had a special group when (Mitchell) won it,” he said. “And I feel like we have a special group right now. He coaches us and tells us he believes in us. We just try to go out and execute.”
Johnson finished with a game-high 30 points on Friday, and Jacques took over in the first half and finished with 22. Together, they almost outscored Campus by themselves.
Jacques said the Buffaloes have heard all the doubters. It hasn’t held them down, he said.
“Like I was telling them in the locker room, ‘We’re a 20-headed beast,’ ” he said. “Everybody from the bench players, starters, coaches and managers, we all come together to get the wins.”
With Mitchell taking over with such short time and so many moving pieces around the program, the Eagle predicted Southeast to finish fourth in the City League. The Buffaloes lost one game in league play and will be one of the top four seeds in the Class 6A state tournament.
Mitchell played under late, legendary City League coach Carl Taylor while he was at Southeast. He said the past 12 months have been a wild ride. Mitchell said things were rough at first, getting guys to be accountable and helping them adjust to his system and culture, but they have stuck with him and come through.
“I think (Taylor) would tell me to keep going,” Mitchell said. “I feel that I’m going in the right direction. A lot of the things in our program, I took from coach Taylor.”
Beat the buzzer, beat the stripe
By Aliyah Funschelle, Eagle correspondent
The Kansas Class 5A girls sub-state championship game between Heights and Maize at Heights came down to a single free throw.
The game was tied 44-44 when Heights sophomore guard Laniah Randle was fouled on a last-second shot. The call itself caused controversy as the referees had to determine if the shot and the foul happened before or after the final buzzer.
Despite Maize coaches, players and fans expressing their dissatisfaction over the foul, the referees stuck to their initial call and gave Randle two free throws with .5 seconds on the clock.
In a half-packed gym where there was enough noise to seem like the gym was packed, the sophomore missed her first free throw.
“After I missed the first free throw, I just tried to tune out the entire crowd and just focus on my shot,” Randle said.
Randle’s focus paid off. She made the free throw and Heights won 45-44. The victory sends Heights to the state tournament for the first time in six years.
“I just wanted to be sub-state champions and go to state and get the win,” Randle said. “I knew it was up to me, I had to do it for the team.”
Heights coach Ken Palmer said Randle was feeling down on herself for being the reason the game was tied in the first place.
Right before the final possession, Maize was down three when Randle fouled the Eagles’ Sydney Holmes on a three-pointer. Holmes, who is also a sophomore, knocked down all three of those free throws to get the game tied with 14.2 seconds on the clock.
“It was really tough on (Randle) because she felt so bad about giving up that foul,” Palmer said. “Then I told her ‘Hey, shake it off, we still have time.’ I told her to get the ball back and she did.”
With only two seniors on the Heights roster, Palmer has had to prepare the young players for crucial game situations like the one they were in on Friday night.
From the beginning of the season he has preached to the players that the grade level doesn’t determine how successful they will be on the court.
“It’s hard, we’re starting freshmen, sophomores and juniors,” Palmer said. “I just tell them ‘Hey, keep playing and working hard. I know we’re young, but we can play like the big boys. Don’t let your grade be a factor, we can play like the big boys.’”
Palmer also mentioned the ability to come in and play as a team was a big focus of the season.
“My young kids come in already confident,” Palmer said. “But learning to gel together with the older girls and get that chemistry going.”
Going to state is something that not even the two seniors had experienced in their time on the team.
“I’m so happy I get to go for my senior year, I haven’t been at all so I’m so excited,” senior Rajone Callahan said. “I’m so happy that our team came together to make it happen.”
As a senior, Callahan is hoping to teach the younger players the correct mindset for state.
“We’re going into state knowing that we can win it, but remaining respectful to the other teams,” Callahan said. “We’re not going to be cocky, we’re going to practice hard and try to win the state championship.”
Goddard coach Kevin Hackerott said he knows his group doesn’t play the flashiest brand of basketball.
It worked again Friday night with a 38-33 win over Hays. Junior Kade Hackerott, who averages more than 15 points per game, scored six. Junior Anahi Nunez and senior Torri Vang led the way with 11 each.
“We’ve had other games where the girls had to grind, and it hasn’t been pretty,” Kevin Hackerott said. “That’s something we’re pretty good at. If you want to bring it down in the mud and get dirty, that’s right up our alley.”
Goddard will enter the 5A tournament as the No. 2 seed at 20-2. It’s only two losses came to unbeaten Maize South, and the Lions are allowing about 31 points per game, tied for the second-lowest in Kansas’ top three classifications.
After the game, Hackerott said the Hays coach told him it was the best game his group had played all year. They just couldn’t get past the Goddard defense.
“It’s good for the girls to validate all the work we put in during the summer and in the weight room,” Hackerott said. “And it’s good for the young girls in our program to see that it’s not just the coach saying it. They can see some reality.”
2019 will mark Goddard’s first trip to state since Hackerott’s older daughter, Kennedy, was on the team in 2015. He said it was special then, and it is special now with Kade on the team for another crack at Goddard’s first girls state title and first basketball championship since 1964 when the boys won Class B.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Hackerott said. “The whole separation of dad and coach is tough. Pretty much all year, you’re just coach. When you get home, you got to be dad. But tonight it was fun to share a big hug and just understand how hard her and all of our girls ahve worked.”
6 in 8 years
Andale is quickly becoming one of the most consistent basketball programs in Kansas high school basketball.
Friday night, the Indians clinched their sixth trip to state in the past eight seasons with a 63-45 win over Rose Hill in its sub-state final. Junior Easton Hunter scored a game-high 22 points, but coach Jeff Buchanan said his four seniors stole the show.
“Before we were going out, they knew win or lose, this was their last home game,” he said. “These four seniors have done everything we’ve asked. It was amazing how well each of those guys played tonight. When you look at the quality of game between (Mason) Fairchild, (Ethan) Baalman, (Cayden) Albers and Bart Neville, that was a lot of enjoyment as a coach.
“That’s how you want your seniors to play in a big game.”
Many of those seniors were tasked with containing Rose Hill’s Koby Campbell, who finished the regular season averaging 18.1 points per game. The Indians deployed its organized system and held him to 11 points.
Last year, Andale finished third in Class 4A-Division II, bowing out to the eventual champion Topeka-Hayden in the semifinals. The Indians have been knocking on the state title door for years but are still chasing that first state championship in school history.
Buchanan said the 2018-19 group has earned the opportunity to become the first. Andale will enter the state tournament in Salina as the No. 2 seed at 19-2 with both losses coming to Class 5A teams that will play to go to state Saturday.
“They have continued to improve better maybe than we originally planned on,” he said. “The success that they’re enjoying right now and that momentum that they currently have going into the state tournament is a true testament to the hard work they have put in.”
A new favorite?
Chanute beat Bishop Miege on the road Friday night.
The score was 46-45, and the Stags will not win a fourth straight state championship, but Trinity Academy might after beating Circle 60-50 to reach the Class 4A tournament for the first time under coach Chance Lindley.
The Knights will enter as the No. 1 seed at 20-1. A year ago, they were trapped in the most difficult geographic sub-state tournament in Kansas and lost to Andale in overtime in what felt like a state semifinal.
After Friday’s win, The Knights and Indians are No. 1 and 2 in 4A. Lindley said this year’s format felt more fair.
”It’s a step in the right direction, but any team that’s left playing tonight, they’re all good teams,” he said. “Circle proved that tonight. But I do like the format, and not just because we won.”
Trinity was tasked with guarding Circle’s high-volume scorer Jude Warren, who scored 50 points against McPherson ahead of the postseason. Lindley said it took a group effort, which is what they will need at state in Salina.
“We just stayed the course; we always just talked about the next game ahead of us,” Lindley said. “Every team has goals, but we never looked too far ahead. We didn’t really talk about the state season. We talked about our next opponent on that Tuesday or Friday.”
Snatching the pebble
The last time Augusta made it the boys state basketball tournament, Jake Sims was a junior in high school, and Terry Taylor was his coach.
Friday night, Sims beat his mentor to get his alma mater back to state for the first time since 2003 with a 68-45 road win over Abilene. Sims said though he owes so much to Taylor, who picked up his 600th win late this season, it feels good to get a big win on him.
“We’ve had a good first three years with me,” Sims said. “It’s a unique feeling in a way, and I hope these guys enjoy it because they deserve it.”
Zac Burton and Jaren Jackson led the way with 18 a piece Friday.
Augusta has flown under the rader this season. At 16-6, the Orioles haven’t peaked but have proven capable of beating anyone. Their longest win streak lasted six games and came midseason with a pair of losses to McPherson and El Dorado tacked to the end.
Friday, they earned a shot at their first state title since the 2002 season.
“It’s been quite the drought,” Sims said. “So it’s good to end it. These guys knew they could do it. It was just a matter of going and doing it, and we finally had that breakthrough.”
The best ever
McPherson coach Chris Strathman has seen a lot of high-quality girls basketball come through the Roundhouse in his 14 years on the sideline, but Friday was a personal best.
“I would say it’s the hardest I’ve had any team play from tip to buzzer in my career as a head coach,” he said. “I thought we just got after it. We never allowed them to be comfortable at all. I couldn’t be more pleased with the defensive effort in particular.”
The Bullpups are back into the state tournament for the fourth straight year after an outstanding 53-32 win over the defending 5A runner-up Bishop Carroll. Golden Eagle senior Britney Ho averaged more than 17 points a game coming in but scored five on six attempts.
After Maize South’s six-loss penalty as a result of the Zayda Perez saga, McPherson will enter the 5A tournament as the No. 1 seed at 20-1 and will seek its 10th state championship in school history.
Strathman said it’s not always about your seeding. It comes down the matchup, but his group will be confident against anyone put in front of them.
“If we can play together and play as hard as we did tonight, I obviously like our chances as well as anybody,” he said.
Collegiate hasn’t punched its ticket to state, but the Spartans are a game away from history.
After beating top-seeded Cheney in double overtime in the first round of Collegiate’s Class 3A sub-state tournament, the Spartans followed up with a 55-50 win over the host, Haven. They will play Kingman, who beat Belle Plaine 63-61 in overtime, for a spot in the dance.
Collegiate had six players go positive in plus-minus. Haven had one.
Spartan freshman Grady Dick led the way with a game-high 19 points along with a game-high eight rebounds.
Collegiate is playing its first 3A competition in three years, coach Mitch Fiegel said after the win over Cheney. Although the No. 8 Spartans entered sub-state with a .500 record, they know they can hang with anyone in this class, Fiegel said.
Unofficial State Brackets