With three minutes left, Easton Leedom hit Andover Central’s final field goal.
In a game in which Leedom set a career-high and eclipsed 1,000 career points, Leedom gave Andover Central its first two-possession lead of the fourth quarter. That was all the cushion the Jaguars needed, and junior Xavier Bell said that was the turning point in pulling off a 75-66 win over previously undefeated Maize in the Kansas Class 5A state semifinals.
Leedom finished with 34 points and one tear as he left the floor.
“We played together, came out and defied all odds,” Leedom said. “I guarantee you they didn’t think they were going to lose today. We just stepped up.”
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Maize committed three turnovers in the final 1:24 and didn’t hit a bucket, but even as the clock slipped under 30 seconds and Central held an eight-point lead, the Jaguars’ student section refused to give a victory chant.
There was too much respect, one student said.
Maize seniors Caleb Grill (22), Brandle Easter Jr. (15) and Cade McGaugh (12) combined for 49 points and had proven capable of even the most unlikely finishes.
Entering Friday’s semifinal, the Eagles had won six games decided by 10 points or fewer. Andover Central junior Bell, who guarded Grill for much of the night, said his group “just wanted it more.”
“They bully teams, but we just didn’t stand for that today,” Bell said. “This is very emotional. I know coming into this game, they probably thought they were just going to walk through us. They’re undefeated. I’d do the same thing if we were undefeated. This one is hard, but I’m so glad we did it because we put all the work in from freshman year going 9-14.”
Bell finished with 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting. He said it was a game he will never forget.
Maize entered with plenty of momentum. One of Kansas’ most physical teams beat St. James Academy 83-56 in its state quarterfinal. The Eagles lived above the rim with alley-oops and dunks that captivated the White Auditorium audience.
The Jaguars matched Maize’s physicality on Friday.
In the final seconds of the third quarter, Grill threw down a dunk that, though it was waved off, invigorated the Maize side of the gym. After a quick Andover Central bucket to quell the emotions, Grill caught the inbounds pass with about five seconds left and went to work.
He dribbled to the right wing and fired an off-balance three-pointer that hit the backboard and sank through the net.
Coming out of the third quarter, Central went on a 5-0 run. Leedom said that was when he realized, “We can do this.”
Coach Jesse Herrmann’s Jaguars made their fourth straight state semifinal appearance in 2019 but their first in Class 5A. Over the past three years, Andover Central has lost to McPherson twice and Bishop Miege.
Herrmann said he was worried about facing another ‘M.’ The win over Maize proved it wasn’t a curse; it was a primer.
The Jaguars had to get through Maize South in their sub-state championship game, one that went down to the final seconds and one Herrmann said was the best game he had been a part of.
He said Friday topped it.
“I’m so happy that they get to experience this,” Herrmann said. “Easton and Braden (Belt) have each been in 12 state tournament games, so they’ve been here. It’s just really special get to play tomorrow in the state title game.”
Andover Central will play for the 5A state championship at 6:15 p.m. Saturday against the winner of Bishop Carroll and Basehor-Linwood.
Junior Ty Herrmann said it is a moment he and his dad have been waiting for.
“I’ve seen him come home after every sub-state loss, every semifinal loss, every first round loss,” he said. “To get to the state championship and try to get one for him his really special.”
Herrmann isn’t the Jags’ leading scorer. He didn’t score in the semifinal. He isn’t one of Andover Central’s three 1,000-point career scorers, but he is arguably the team’s top defender.
Jesse Herrmann said any coach with a son on the team will say it is special to succeed alongside, and that is no different between he and Ty.
“He leads our team in charges taken,” Jesse Herrmann said. “He doesn’t get as much playing time as some of the other guys, but he’s a hustle guy. He’s an inspirational kid, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
The Jaguars know they haven’t reached the top. Bishop Carroll is the defending 5A champion, and Basehor-Linwood, like Andover Central, has been knocking on the door for years.
“We’re not done,” Bell said. “We’ll celebrate tonight, go get something to eat, come back and watch our next opponent — and refocus in the morning.”