Kings of the jungle
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.”
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.”
Victims of a miracle
As they emerged from the North tunnel of White Auditorium, they were greeted with a blend of tears, screams and hugs.
Basehor-Linwood’s season escaped death Friday night in the Kansas Class 5A state semifinals. The Bobcats came back from down 13 points with eight minutes and beat defending 5A champion Bishop Carroll 69-68 and advance to the state championship game.
“It’s a miracle,” senior Nolan Ford said. “I don’t think there are enough words for it.”
Down two with 20 seconds to go, Basehor-Linwood senior Jacob Coleman drove the lane, spun to his right and got a contested right-handed floater to go in to tie it.
About 15 seconds later, Bishop Carroll junior Tanner Mans held the ball just past midcourt in front of the scorer’s table. The Golden Eagles would win it and go to a second straight state championship game with a point.
Coleman said he read Mans’ eyes, jumped the pass and stole the ball with four fouls. He said that is his favorite move, but he knew he needed to take a massive risk.
Running toward the basket, Carroll sophomore Enrique Lankford swiped at the ball and was called for an intention foul with 1.1 seconds to go. Coleman went to the free-throw line and hit both shots to give the Bobcats their first lead since Thursday’s state quarterfinal win over Salina Central.
“We’re really emotional right now,” Coleman said. “We’ve got to go home and calm down. We can’t play like we did for three quarters and five minutes like we did tonight.”
After the game, players ran to the locker room and immediately received treatment for cramps. Junior Connor Younger was the worst of the group.
Lying face down on the training table, he screamed and tears welled in his eyes as the cramps in his legs spurred. Younger was one of the biggest reasons for the Bobcats’ comeback.
After scoring zero points in the first half on 0-for-4 shooting, including 0-for-3 on three-point attempts, the Bobcats got into him at halftime. Basehor-Linwood coach Mike McBride said he asked Younger for more, and he delivered.
In the second half, Younger hit five three-pointers and finished with 21 points. He was one of three Bobcats to score all of their points in the final two quarters. None of Youngers’ were bigger than a step-back three with 1:27 to go that cut the Carroll lead to 63-61. Younger tried to give an interview after the game, but the cramps hit him as he began to speak.
Ford, who fouled out in the fourth quarter and watched most of the comeback from the sideline, said when Younger hit the step-back, “You knew we were going to win. We had luck. We had God. We had everybody on our side.”
“We couldn’t lose,” Ford. “I probably cried three or four times on the bench because of the different emotions of the game.”
Basehor-Linwood went into halftime facing a 30-16 deficit. The Bobcats scored 53 of their 69 points in the second half, including a 30-point fourth. They scored almost twice as many points in the final eight minutes as they did in the first 16 — half the time, double the points.
All of the Bobcats agreed their fans were the key. Without the energy in White Auditorium, they couldn’t have believed. Even going into the fourth quarter, McBride said he didn’t say much of anything to his group to inspire the comeback.
“I told them, ‘Just keep working, see what happens,’” he said.
The Basehor-Linwood fans outnumbered the Carroll fans significantly. Carroll coach Mike Domnick said moving the 5A tournament to Emporia was brilliant. He said it can’t go back to Topeka’s Kansas Expocentre.
He also said he isn’t going to make excuses for the amount of noise on the Basehor-Linwood side the arena, or lack thereof on the other.
“I don’t want to take away from the people that did come and support us, but they are mostly family and a few students,” he said. “We’ve got to play within our own family unit whatever the situation is when it comes to crowd or no crowd. We have to deal with it with a positive attitude. I refuse to throw stones.”
McBride said that’s Bobcat nation.
“We are a very, very supportive community, and it’s been like that since I got here 15 years ago,” he said. “They just love watching kids play. Parents support other kids who play other sports. It’s just been a fun school to be at.
With the win, Basehor-Linwood will play in just its second state championship game in school history, the first since 2015 and first in Class 5A. The Bobcats will meet another team that competed in 4A-Division I in the title game, Andover Central.
In the miraculous celebration of what the Bobcats experienced Friday night, the reward seemed to be lost. When asked about how they will come down from the high and refocus for tomorrow, McBride started to laugh.
“For us to go to the state championship in our first year in 5A, it just shows that we belong,” he said.
Down goes Derby
By Todd Engle, Eagle Correspondent
Derby has run roughshod over every team unfortunate enough to be on the schedule in defense of its Class 6A girls basketball state championship this season.
The closest test the Panthers faced coming into Friday’s semifinal against Topeka Washburn Rural was a 12-point victory over McPherson, way back on Dec. 7.
Washburn Rural was the first team capable and willing to fight back against the Panthers this season, and didn’t flinch in a hard-fought 45-40 victory on Friday at Koch Arena.
The Panthers (22-1) will play Olathe Northwest on Saturday at noon in the third-place game. The championship game will be an all-capital city showdown between Topeka High and Washburn Rural.
Washburn Rural, seeking its first state title since 2009, once again didn’t flinch. The Jr. Blues started the fourth quarter with five quick points to take its biggest lead of the game. It set the stage for an intense final five minutes.
The Jr. Blues managed to keep Derby at arm’s length down the stretch. Carly Bachelor hit a pair of free throws with 1:22 left to give her team a five-point lead.
Derby’s Aliyah Myers hit a three-pointer to pull the Panthers within two with a minute to play, but the Panthers would get no closer, because those were the last points they’d score on the evening.
The Jr. Blues salted the game away with three free throws in the final 50 seconds. Derby, meanwhile, couldn’t get a clean look, and the looks it did get wouldn’t fall.
Myers led the team with 20 points, and Kennedy Brown scored 10.
A heartbroken Derby team walked back to the locker room, where it could plainly hear Washburn Rural’s celebration going on in a nearby locker room. Such is the sorrow and heartbreak of postseason basketball.
Derby jumped to an early lead, but Washburn Rural clawed back to tie the game midway through the second quarter. The Panthers finished the first half with a flourish, however, and took a five-point lead into halftime.
The Jr. Blues were undaunted, opening the third quarter with an 8-2 run to give them their first lead of the game.
The two teams traded baskets and the lead for the next few minutes, with the lead changing hands four times late in the third quarter. Derby still managed to take a one-point lead into the final frame.
Rivals chasing titles
About 10 miles could separate a pair of state champions.
Cheney in Class 3A and Garden Plain in 2A are both heading to the state championship games Saturday after semifinal wins. The rivals battled twice throughout the regular season and split the series.
No. 1 Cheney handled No. 4 Nemaha Central 60-48 in Hutchinson. The Cardinals are seeking just their second state basketball championship and first since 2010.
Cheney sophomore Kylee Scheer scored a 3A tournament record 38 points in the Cardinals’ quarterfinal win over Columbus and picked up where she left off, buring a pair of three-pointers to open the game. By the end of the first quarter, she had almost two-thirds of Cheney’s points, leading 17-6.
By halftime, she was up to 15, and she finished with a game-high 25.
“We have a motto that says, ‘Nobody plays harder than us.’ That says a lot throughout the entire game,” coach Rod Scheer told the Hutchinson News. “We’re going after loose balls, fighting for rebounds, being strong or whatever it may be. The kids are diving after the ball and doing all of the little things and, fortunately, we hit a lot of shots.”
With the win, Cheney (23-2) will play sixth-seeded Royal Valley (20-5) at 4 p.m. from the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
One of Cheney’s losses came to the potential Class 2A champion. Garden Plain beat top-seeded Wabaunsee 55-51 in overtime and will play No. 3 Sterling (21-4) for the Owls second straight title.
Garden Plain coach Kody Kasselman said his group trailed all night. The Owls cut the deficit to two but allowed it to balloon back up to five until the closing minute.
With 11 seconds to go, senior Lauren Danahy hit a three-pointer that tied the game, gave the Owls all the momentum they needed and sent the game to overtime. Danahy finished with a team-high 20 points in the win, shooting 7-of-9.
“Our kids were dead,” Kasselman said. “I would call a timeout, and you just tell they were winded. I told them, ‘We will be tired on Sunday.’ These kids just won’t go away.”
The Owls aren’t out of the water though. Before the state tournament brackets were released, Kasselman said he talked with his wife. She asked which team he least wanted to face of all the 2A sub-state champions.
Kasselman said Sterling.
“They’re not going to go away,” he said. “They’re a gritty team, too, so it’s going to be a grindfest.”
Garden Plain beat Sterling 56-48 in the Central Plains League/Heart of America challenge. After that loss, the Black Bears lost only once more, and it came against 1A state finalist Central Plains.
Since the loss to the Oilers, Sterling is 17-0.
“After that win somebody told me that wasn’t the team they expected,” Kasselman said. “I said ‘They’re coming. Just watch.’ ”
History a win away
Augusta has won two basketball state championships; the most recent came in 2003, and the first came in the middle of World War II.
The Orioles are a win away from making it three after beating Chapman 46-40 in their Class 4A semifinal Friday in Salina. Augusta was nails from the free throw line late, going 5-for-6 in the final 38 seconds to ice the win.
Junior Jaren Jackson finished with a game-high 17 points, including a dozen in the first half and 3-of-4 from the free throw line late.
With the win, Augusta has won turned its fortunes around since losing back-to-back games less than a month ago to McPherson and El Dorado at home.
Augusta will play No. 4 KC Piper (20-4) for the state title at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at the Tony’s Pizza Events Center in Salina.
A rivalry is born
McPherson and St. Thomas Aquinas are two of the top the most historic programs in Kansas high school girls basketball, and now they are in the same classification.
The Saints and Bullpups met for the first time since 2007 on Friday in the 2019 Class 5A state semifinals. Aquinas pulled out a 44-36 victory to keep alive its hopes of winning a fourth straight state championship, but the game was decided in the final minute ... and a new rivalry was likely born.
Aquinas and McPherson entered this season with 16 combined state championships. Only six other programs have more than five.
“The coaching style, the players and their attitude, they’re a very program,” Aquinas senior Alayna Townsell said. “Aquinas just has to bring it every single we play them. It’s always great to play against a team that will challenge you and almost remind you of yourself.”
The 2019 edition of this game lived up to the billing. With 1:03 to go, McPherson sophomore dribbled the length of the floor and buried a crucial three-pointer in the eye of senior Blythe Pearson to cut it to a 38-35 Saints lead. Down the stretch, however, Aquinas’ defense stiffened.
That was the Bullpups’ only bucket of the fourth quarter.
Facing a four-point deficit, McPherson’s last real chance came with 30 seconds left. With Aquinas in the double bonus, a turnover would likely end it.
After a few rounding handoffs, McPherson junior Emma Ruddle drove the lane, but Aquinas junior Molly Hartnett cut her off. Ruddle was forced to turn back and lost the ball. It went to Townsell.
Townsell, who finished with a game-high 19 points, was shut down in the Saints’ quarterfinal against Maize South. She finished without a point in that 47-29 win.
She said it was nice to get freed up Friday against McPherson, but as she and the Saints showed in the fourth quarter, it wasn’t about the points.
“It’s always been about making sure the other team doesn’t execute their offense, and that’s exactly what we did,” Townsell said. “This whole week, we practiced on what they’re going to bring to us.”
A few missed shots and free throws decided it Friday. Aquinas coach Rick Hetzel said the game could have gone either way. Hetzel said he has the utmost respect for what McPherson coach Chris Strathman has done with his program.
“They’re one of the best programs, if not the best program, in the state year after year,” he said.
In a lot of ways, the Aquinas and McPherson programs resemble each other, but since 2007, the Bullpups have fought with Bishop Miege in Class 4A.
Last year, McPherson broke Miege’s four-year state championship streak with a 62-58 overtime win. McPherson is expected to stay in 5A, with a booming community fueled on its high school sports teams.
With that, McPherson will likely trade blows with another Kansas City private school. Strathman said he looks forward to what the two Kansas powers can produce as near-locks to reach the state tournament each year.
Aquinas made its 25th straight state-tournament appearance this year. McPherson reached the final eight for the 24th time in the past 27 years.
Aquinas plays Blue Valley Southwest in an all-KC area girls 5A finale Saturday at 4 p.m. in Emporia. BV Southwest beat another KC-area school, Schlagle, 43-41 in the other girls 5A semifinal Firday.
“Hopefully we’re back here, and hopefully we continue to have the chance to match up with them,” Strathman said. “They’re the standard of 5A as far as what’s been recently, and rightfully so.”
A dagger to the Knights
By The Kansas City Star Staff
Things couldn’t get much better for Piper High athletic program than Friday night. Well, they could, but more about that in a minute.
The first crescendo of the evening at Salina’s Tony’s Pizza Events Center came around sundown, when the boys basketball team put the finishing touches on a 57-54 win over No. 1-seeded Wichita’s Trinity Academy (21-2).
The fourth-seeded Pirates (20-4) is moving on thanks in large part to a three-pointer by Tyren Shelley. That shot was huge, because Trinity’s Caden Vanlangham had tied it at 54 moments earlier when he was fouled in the act of shooting a three and sank the ensuing trio of free throws.
Trinity’s only other loss this season was to Campus in El Dorado. This will be Piper’s first state-title game appearance.
The next game on the schedule Friday night featured a girls semifinal: Piper, again, vs. Nickerson. And the PHS girls kept the good times rolling, remaining unbeaten with a 72-40 victory of their own.
Unlike the boys game, this one was never close. Piper led 42-17 at halftime and 58-23 after three quarters.
So about what we said at the top: How could things get even better for Pirates Nation? By winning two state championships on Saturday, of course.
To do that, the boys will have to beat the winner of Friday’s final semifinal between Augusta and Chapman. The girls, meanwhile, will have to take down a familiar face on the state-tourney circuit: perennial powerhouse and fellow unbeaten Bishop Miege (23-0), a 74-44 Friday winner over Baldwin.
Miege got a sister-act command performance from the Verhulstes against Baldwin (20-2), with Ashton Verhulst scoring 16 and Payton Verhulst adding 15 and 11 rebounds. Faith Hawthorne had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Saturday’s girls 4A final is at4 p.m.; the boys final is at 6:15.
Southeast washed out in semis
By Todd Engle, Eagle Correspondent
Washburn Rural finished the third quarter with a bang, and used that momentum to push to a Class 6A semifinal victory over Southeast.
The Jr. Blues’ Jordan Berry converted a four-point play as the horn sounded, giving his team a seven-point lead that it wouldn’t relinquish.
Southeast was led by 22 points from sophomore Jackie Johnson, and 12 from John Murdock.
Washburn Rural (23-1) was both balanced and methodical, a combination that was able to slow down Southeast.
“They slowed the game down. We’re used to pedal-to-the-metal running, and they slowed us down a lot and we couldn’t speed them up,” Southeast coach Joe Mitchell said. “When they got to the basket, they finished. I just think my guys weren’t locked in, and that’s what happens.”
The Golden Buffaloes (20-4) got as close as three points midway through the fourth quarter, but a 9-2 run from Washburn Rural put the game away.
Southeast won’t have a chance to compete for its first state title since 2008, but it will have an opportunity to take home a trophy. It faces Shawnee Mission South at 2 p.m. for third place.
“It didn’t end like we wanted it to. This being their first year under me, and their dealing with my aggressiveness and standard that I hold them at, I feel it’s big-time for them,” Mitchell said. “They exceeded my expectations, definitely.”