By CONOR NICHOLL
SALINA – In the 2020 state tournament, Clay Center defeated Eudora girls in the state quarterfinals. That bumped the Cardinals to 0-4 all-time in state games. On Wednesday, the pair met up again. Eudora was the second seed at 21-1 and has Harper Schreiner, a Pittsburg State commit. Clay Center, which returned just one starter from last winter, had taken six losses.
Still, CC, with longtime coach Jeff Edwards, led 18-2 after the first quarter a Class 4A state quarterfinal contest. Clay Center patiently scored off its half court sets. The Tigers contained Schreiner with senior Sydney Lane and junior Megan Wright, both who gave up at least two inches. Clay Center led by 12 entering the fourth quarter.
“Their defense was tremendous and had been for the whole year,” Edwards said.
However, Eudora made a defensive adjustment, which led to multiple CC turnovers and fast breaks. With just over 10 seconds left, Schreiner came off a ball screen on Lane and gained separation on the right side. She took an eight-foot jumper that rolled all the way around and dropped out.
“That one hurt,” Schreiner said. “I really thought that was going to be the one to tie it.”
“When it rolled out, I was thinking, ‘Uh oh,’” coach Brandon Parker added.
Then, CC made just 1 of 2 foul shots for a three-point lead. In a timeout, Eudora discussed a press break. Assistant coach Jeremy Thomas told Schreiner: “Shoot it, and be confident.” Schreiner dribbled down the right side and hit a buzzer-beating trey to tie the score at 43. The Eudora student section, loud all game, chanted “Harper Schreiner, Harper Schreiner!”
Eudora tallied the first two baskets in overtime and won 50-46 in a thrilling game at Tony’s Pizza Events Center. Eudora never led until overtime.
“I wanted it for Harper,” Parker said. “There’s not a kid in the state that wants that moment more than her, and so for her to be able to have another moment – just make it right for her was awesome to see. Yeah, it goes back to our kids and our toughness.”
Parker said it was the best comeback he’s ever had. Eudora had two post players foul out. Schreiner, a returning first team all-state pick and on the short list for 4A Player of the Year this winter, battled through bloody knees and finished with 22 points, 10 steals and six rebounds. The game-tying shot was her lone 3.
“This one is special,” Schreiner said. “I mean, they got us two years ago by five, and just getting them this year, on my senior year, it’s amazing.”
Afterward, Schreiner took pictures with more than 10 family and friends. Eudora (22-1) has not lost since the season opener and set school records for single season wins and winning streak. Schreiner, who has exceeded 1,000 career points, was highly acute of the historical significance, labeling the win “amazing.”
“It’s a dream come true,” Schreiner said. “It’s what you work for. You work for moments where you tie it and put it into overtime.”
Eudora will face No. 3 Wamego (21-2) in the state semifinals at 6 p.m. on Friday. Eudora beat Wamego, 48-38, on Jan. 22 in the Tonganoxie tournament championship. Wamego and Clay Center split in NCKL play.
“The kids, they believe,” Parker said. “And what drives them is they love playing together. They love being a part of this team. … They literally will fight to keep this thing going, and they showed it tonight. This team has done a lot of firsts in the history of Eudora basketball, and yes, we wanted to be that first one to get through. And we knew that that was going to be not easy, because Clay Center is a well-coached team, good ball players.”
The historic win for Eudora encapsulated a remarkable first day of state basketball, the first time the tournament returned to normal since 2019. Two years ago, KSHSAA shut down the tournament on Thursday because of COVID-19. Teams just played a first-round contest. Last season, coronavirus forced quarterfinals to local high schools.
Crowds were greatly reduced with no neutral courts. Scenes like Wednesday for Eudora never happened or were greatly diminished. Last season, an undefeated Clay Center squad had to play McPherson in the first round. Bishop Miege faced Wamego.
“It was nice to seed it out and play it here,” Edwards said.
This season, the joy returned to one of Kansas’ premier high school events. All seven sites had at least one upset and/or buzzer-beater game.
“It’s extremely cool,” Parker said, looking over at a throng of fans cheering as Eudora players emerged from the locker room. “The greatest thing about this tonight, for, in our case for Eudora people, our players, our community, parents, was that we all get to share this memory, and it will always be a great memory no matter what.”
“People will talk about this game,” he added. “And the fact that students are back at games and multiple people, and we are back to more of a normal. We all – not Eudora – we all are just blessed to be able to have these opportunities again, and take advantage of them, so it’s very cool.”
The last game of Day 1 was arguably the most thrilling. No. 6 Thomas More Prep-Marian defeated No. 3 Galena, 68-67 in a back-and-forth double overtime game in a 3A game in Hutchinson. TMP junior post Dylan Werth had an offensive rebound and putback at the buzzer.
The Monarchs will face Hesston in a rematch of last season’s final four squad. TMP has enjoyed a remarkable season with a 3-0 record in overtime games, none at home. The Monarchs also beat Great Bend on a buzzer-beater 3 by Kenton Ginther.
“It’s such a good group of kids,” coach Bill Meagher told SIK last Saturday. “They have worked so hard. They have stayed together the whole season and fought.”
Galena had a huge performance from Brett Sarwinski, the reigning 3A Player of the Year, and post Tyler Little fouled out. The Monarchs received a big game from Werth, but the Monarchs’ strength comes in its depth with Gavin Unrein, Jace Wentling, Bryce Seib, Kade Harris, Ginther and Andrew Schwartz. Ginther hit two mammoth 3s against Galena. Wentling had a big showing, and Schwartz knocked down key free throws.
“I love the group of guys that I have with the senior class,” Wentling said last Saturday. “Us five. We have been playing basketball since we were eight years old, and this is all we have wanted to do is get to state. And our senior year, it makes it something special.”
In 1A-II boys, No. 3 Northern Valley beat Waverly, 63-57, in overtime.
For 1A-I in Dodge City, seventh-seeded Solomon hit a shot in the final seconds and beat No. 2 Norwich, 45-43. Solomon, under first-year coach Kyler Stein, is at the state tournament for the first time in 104 years. It marked the first-ever Solomon state tournament win in program history. Norwich junior Jace Gosch had 16 points and 10 rebounds, including a dunk, in a big performance. Dylan Hynes delivered 10 points and 10 rebounds for Solomon.
Class 2A girls had two games decided by a total of 10 points. Plus, Garden Plain beat undefeated Pittsburg Colgan, 39-26. Colgan was 21-0. GP improved to 18-6, though has two state titles in the last six years and plays a highly challenging schedule. Garden Plain, known for its defense, held Colgan to 0 of 11 from beyond the arc.
Class 5A boys had both of the top-two seeds fall. Eighth-seeded Topeka Seaman won its ninth straight game and beat No. 1 Kapaun Mt. Carmel, 54-43, at Emporia State. Seaman is into its first final four since 1941 and second overall, per historian Carol Swenson. Ty Henry finished with 21 points. Seaman held KMC to one made shot in the fourth quarter. (Check out more on 5A state with video interviews from SIK’s Bethany Bowman).
KMC coach Steve Eck is at 999 career wins across high school and junior college. Plus, seventh-seeded St. James Academy beat No. 2 Topeka West, 59-51. West hadn’t lost since December. SJA’s Sam Somerhalder had 16 points, and Brian Hawthorne delivered 15. SJA won its first state game in school history.
The biggest girls’ upset happened in 6A at Wichita State in the 3/6 matchup. Blue Valley star Jadyn Wooten went full court for a buzzer-beater and 33-32 victory against Topeka High. The Trojans had posted state runner-up, undefeated Forever Four and state runner-up the last three winters.
Clay Center returned one starter and took a pair of losses to Chapman, an eventual eight-win team, and to Wamego. In the latter half of the year, the Tigers defeated Chapman and beat Wamego. CC reached state for the eighth time in nine years.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls,” Edwards said. “They poured it out from Day 1, all the way through the season, all the way to the last buzzer right here. And I told the girls, everyday I came to practice, I was looking forward to it, and it was kind of a stress-free environment, because I knew they would pour it out for me, and they would do everything they could to win, and that’s all I could ask.”
Against Eudora, Clay Center tallied the first eight points and led by 16 after one.
“We weren’t very tough in the first quarter,” Parker said.
At halftime, Schreiner was 1 of 8 shooting. Clay Center led 23-13 at the intermission and had eight turnovers. Eudora forced 14 in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime. Clay Center led 37-23 early in the fourth.
“We started in quite a hole, and Clay Center is a really good team,” Parker said. “And they were shooting lights out. They were just executing better than us, and the thing about our team all year is that we have had one-point games, we have had six-point games. We are used to it, but in fairness, that was a pretty substantial hole we were in. And we just had to grind. There wasn’t anything glamorous about it. It was playing defense, trying to get them out of rhythm, and we had to rely heavy on our bench tonight, and we feel comfortable with that.”
Schreiner switched defensive assignments with sophomore Jayla Erpelding, who played more than 24 minutes off the bench. In the first four minutes of the fourth, Schreiner, Erpelding and MaKenzie Yoder all delivered steals. Schreiner called the defensive switch “huge.” Erpelding guarded CC senior Shelby Siebold, the Tigers’ leading scorer. Sophomore Lainey Orr came off the bench to hit two treys.
“I was kind of tired after that third quarter,” Schreiner said. “And she did a great job on (Siebold), causing havoc.”
Throughout the contest, Schreiner had to consistently get her knees taped from the trainer. She rarely exits but had to come out of the game because of the blood. Schreiner had never had her knees bleed like that.
“Our trainer, Bob (Rusche), was very mad at me, because I went through five rolls of tape,” Schreiner said with a smile. “Because I kept bleeding through them.”
Clay Center struggled with making free throws. The Tigers finished 7 of 22 from the foul line.
“All we needed was a couple of free throws,” Edwards said. “And that game is out of (Schreiner’s) hand. Like one more free throw, and that 3-pointer that goes in at the end is a whole different game. So we had plenty of opportunities.”
Back-to-back turnovers, including an Erpelding steal, led to four straight Schreiner free throws.
“We just started getting hands on balls and deflections,” Parker said. “Which led to some steals, which led to some fast-break opportunities.”
Clay Center led 42-40 with under 52 seconds left.
“Harper, her will to win is so great,” Parker said. “She got some steals there, and we just kind of fed off that.”
Schreiner had a good look at a 3 from the right side. Later, she had the jumper off the ball screen that swirled out.
“When you see something like that at the end of the game,” Parker said. “You think ‘Uh oh, this may not happen.’”
She received another opportunity. Clay Center elected not to foul. Edwards wanted his girls to “rush” outside of the 3-point line and not allow Schreiner to get close.
“She got close enough to get a good look,” Edwards said. “It was tough. The gym gets so loud and so energetic that it’s hard to communicate once they get going out there, and she just hit a huge shot, and she is a great player.”
This time, Schreiner stayed just ahead of Wright, pulled up and shot.
“I am really glad we got another chance,” Schreiner said. “….I knew if I hit that, we’d have an extra gust to get us through, and that’s just what happened.”
Defending state champions win; milestones for 1A-II schools
Even with the upsets, multiple defending state champions won on Day 1. In 5A, defending boys’ titlist Maize held off Topeka Highland Park, 53-47. Maize’s Chris Grill, last season’s SIK all-classes coach of the year, earned career win No. 300.
In 3A, defending titlist Hesston beat Hugoton, 46-34. Top-seeded Royal Valley defeated Girard for the first state tournament win in school history. RV star Nachs Wahwassuck tallied 29 points.
In 1A-I boys, Olpe rolled over Troy in the 1/8 matchup. Olpe has won back-to-back football and is the defending basketball champion. The Eagles have won 23 straight and received 18 points and 12 rebounds from Derek Hoelting.
For the second straight year, Montezuma-South Gray defeated Ness City at state. SG, the defending runner-up, won 62-53, including 19 points off the bench from Joey Dyck. Jorge Lupercio contributed 16. Brady Deges added 13, and Brent Penner 12. Deges has made more than 226 treys in his career and has an 85-9 all-time record.
In 2A girls, defending state champion Sterling (24-0) beat Mission Valley, 73-52, and extended its state-best winning streak to 38 games. Sterling will face Heart of America rival Berean Academy (23-1) in Friday’s 2 p.m. semifinal game at Kansas State. Sterling is the lone squad to beat BA with a 44-39 win on Feb. 14. Sterling senior point guard Kali Briar, the reigning 2A player of the year, delivered 28 points. Bennie Horsch finished with 14. Makenna Linden and Sadie Beagley both scored 11.
In 4A girls, Bishop Miege dominated Andale, 74-35. From 2019-2022, Miege is 8-0 in state tournament games with all wins by at least 15 points. The Stags beat Andale, 55-40, in the state semifinals last season. Miege has made eight straight final fours. The Stags led 37-6 after the first quarter behind its press and length. Freshman Kirston Verhulst continued her brilliant season with 23 points on 9 of 11 shooting and six assists. Freshman Grace McCallop had 11 points and five assists. Miege shot 9 of 18 on treys.
Also in 4A, undefeated Wellington held off McPherson, 33-29, in an emotional, defensive contest. Wellington made just four shots in the first half. Wellington improved to 23-0 and is into the state final four for the second time in school history. The highly anticipated Final Four occurs at 2 p.m. on Friday (see more Thursday on this matchup on SIK). Both Miege and Wellington are known for full court press. Wellington forced 24 turnovers and held McPherson to 20 percent shooting.
In 1A-II boys, defending champion Hanover rolled over four-win Central Plains with an 84-43 margin. Keagan Dimler scored 27 points with five assists, and Joshua Zarybnicky tallied 24.
Hanover will face Bucklin. The Red Aces improved to 19-5 with a 67-45 win against Caldwell, which has just six total players. Bucklin, at state for the first time since 1994, won its first state tournament game ever. Standout Scott Price finished with 23 points and five assists.
Tribune-Greeley County defeated Pawnee Heights, 63-34 and moved into the final four for the first time in Tribune/GC history, first since 2011.