When Perry Ellis tipped off his career at Koch Arena on Dec. 6, 2008 against Wichita East in a 67-62 victory, there was already a clear goal in mind for the future McDonald’s All-American.
“My freshman year, my coaches and I, we all got together and this was the goal; to win four (championships),” Ellis said.
After a hard-fought 67-60 win over Blue Valley Northwest on Saturday evening right back where his career started, it is mission accomplished for the Heights Falcons.
“It has been a goal that we haven’t talked about, but what an incredible accomplishment,” Heights head coach Joe Auer said. “We had an opportunity. We talked about it, what can we get done over the next four years one game at a time? By goodness we accomplished every single goal we set for ourselves.”
The final game proved to potentially be the most harrowing of the Heights dynasty. The Blue Valley Northwest Huskies lost the previous two championship games to Heights, but it felt right to Auer that his team would have to beat a team for the third time to finish off the incredible run.
“That is part of our story. In 2009 we had to beat Southeast three times to win a title. This year we had to play Wichita East for a fourth time just to get to state,” Auer said. “Really it is kind of fitting for us to have to that kind of challenge to have beat a team three times in a row.”
The Huskies did their best to make the third time a grueling affair.
“It really reminded me of an Ali-Frazier type of thing,” Auer said. “Just punch-counter punch.”
Neither team could pull away from the other for much of the game. At half the score was tied 30-30, and BV Northwest super-sophomore Clayton Custer was dictating things from his point guard position. He was driving into the lane and wreaking havoc on the Heights defenders.
He went 9-for-9 in the first half from the free throw line and had 14 points.
“The problem he presented was getting to the free throw line,” Auer said. “That is what we talked about at halftime. He is going to make plays, but we don’t his plays being at the foul line. The kids did good job of keeping him off the foul line the second half.”
Heights allowed Custer seven more points from the free throw line on his way to a game-high 32 points, but the Falcons responded in a big way with Ellis and fellow senior Terrence Moore to finally create distance in the final quarter.
“What it broke down to was our will to get the ball inside was greater than their will to keep it from getting inside,” Auer said. “It was their perimeter shooting versus our will to get the ball inside and our will was stronger.”
Moore had 10 second-half points on his way to 17 for the game, and came through for the Falcons all tournament long in support of Ellis.
“Terrence got back to playing Terrence Moore basketball. We missed that for a while,” Auer said. “We talked to him in our last practice before we got to state. (We said) we need you to get back to being a human highlight reel. We need you being electric in transition making plays.”
Ellis finished with 29 points.
Of all of the emotions the All-American was feeling after the final buzzer, there was one that outweighed the other.
“It is just so relieving all the hard work really paid off and we got it,” Ellis said. “It really was more of a relief. There was so much pressure on us.”
Pressure was about the only way to define Ellis’ career and the Heights dynasty.
Pressure to win four straight titles. The pressure of a 62-game winning streak. The pressure of being the City League’s All-Time leading scorer. The pressure to always perform in the face of every team’s best shot.
Nothing was handed to the Falcons over the last four years, and Auer consistently tasked his players to elevate their games in the chase after four titles.
“We really didn’t talk about it or linger on it much, but coach challenged us and we came through with the challenge all four years,” Moore said. “We may laugh or giggle about it that we have a chance to go four-peat. It came real tonight.”
This year proved to be the most difficult after losing key cogs from the first three titles in Evan Wessel and Dreamius Smith to graduation.
“Nothing (was) easy for us this year,” Auer said. “The best thing that happened to us to get to tonight was losing two games (at the end of the year). The 62-game streak completely drained us and we needed to refocus and reenergize. We ended up playing our best basketball at the end of the year at the most important time of the year.”
Now Auer, Moore and Ellis can sit back and reflect on all they have accomplished.
“As a teenager it takes a while for it to sink in,” Moore said. “I will be thinking about it all night. Eventually it will become real that it actually happened.”
For Auer, he is ready for his relationship with his McDonald’s All-American to move on to its next phase.
“I am so happy right now that as of this moment I am now becoming his (Ellis’) greatest fan. I am really looking forward to the change in our relationship,” Auer said. “I am looking forward to cutting him loose on the Big 12.”
Ellis finishes his career as the City League’s All-Time leading scorer with 2,231 points and a career record of 95-5. In his final run at state, Ellis was at his best averaging 26 points per game in the state tournament.
“It is just an amazing career and nobody deserves it more than he does. He is the greatest, most humble high school athlete I have ever been associated with and I couldn’t think of a better way for him to end his career,” Auer said. “He deserves everything he has got.”
Heights girls win second straight title, 50th straight game
The Heights girls came into this season with s 25-game winning streak and a state championship, but the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association ranked the Falcons No. 3 behind Olathe Northwest and Maize in the preseason poll despite the Falcons’ accomplishments and pedigree.
It is a sleight the Falcons carried through another 25 straight wins and a second straight title with a 64-46 victory over Olathe Northwest.
“That put a chip on our shoulder. Usually you go 25-0 no matter what you usually get the top banner until somebody knocks you off,” Pulliam said. “There were some people out there that doubted us. It was actually good for us this year. It put that chip on our shoulder and we played with it until the end.”
Olathe Northwest, ranked No. 1 in the preseason, scored the first bucket of the game. Then the Falcons flexed their muscles and went on a 10-0 run that the Ravens would never recover from.
At the half, Heights was up big 31-13. Olathe Northwest mounted a comeback in the third quarter and cut the lead to nine points.
Jada Lynch, one of the Falcons’ many weapons, stepped in and quieted the rally with clutch 3-point shots.
“She has confidence and she knows I have confidence in her,” Pulliam said. “She didn’t even think twice about them. When she let them go she knew they were good; daggers.”
It was a host of characters that led the Falcons to the title with five different players scoring in double figures, which was a theme that followed the team all season long.
“This was a very special team because they didn’t care who did what. It was just let’s win,” Pulliam said.
And win is what the Falcons did despite a grueling schedule featuring top teams from the state and region.
“They played hard every night and it is hard when you have the bull’s-eye on your back,” Pulliam said. “For this team to go undefeated is truly unbelievable to be honest with you.”
At the end of the day, Olathe Northwest had no answer for Heights’ signature swarming press.
“We want to be prepared for the opportunity to play a team like that, but you can’t overlook the other teams in the tournament because you will never get there,” Olathe Northwest head coach Joel Branstrom said. “We might have spent eight percent of practice working on trying to beat presses. That is why they are so successful because they are so good at it (the press).”
The loss was just Northwest’s second of the season and a tough one for the Ravens to take. Pulliam knows exactly what the Ravens are feeling and sees a future with the program.
“I told him (Branstrom) after the game, ‘don’t worry, yours will come,’” Pulliam said. “He is going to be back and he is going to get more chances. They are going to live and learn off of it and we had to do it the first time we came. We lost in the finals too.”
Branstrom agreed that his Ravens will grow from the experience as many players are returning next season.
“It is nice to experience something that you are striving for instead of wanting something that you have never been to,” Branstrom said. “Experience is a great teacher, but sometimes she gives the test first and the lessons afterwards.”
Lynch led the way with a game-high 14 points for Heights. Ashlee Ivy, Taylor Chandler and Joyea Marshall each had 11 points. Kaitlyn Palmer rounded out the double-digit scorers with10 points.
With the Heights boys’ championship later in the evening, the Heights boys and girls became the first school in history to sweep both the boys’ and girls’ titles in back-to-back seasons.
Third Place: Maize girls 56, Olathe South 48
The Maize girls suffered a big loss at the hands of Olathe Northwest on Friday, so nobody would have blamed the Eagles if there was a big of a hangover from that letdown on Saturday afternoon.
Olathe South already had beaten the Eagles earlier in the season in the Emporia Tournament championship game, and after the first quarter it appeared the Class 6A third place game would be the same story.
The Falcons jumped out to a 16-8 lead on the Eagles after the first quarter and were up 15-3 at one point, but the Eagles would not lay down and settle for fourth.
Maize outscored the Falcons in each quarter for the rest of the game and culminated the game with 33-18 advantage in the second half.
Freshman Keiryn Swenson led all scorers with 19 points for the Eagles. The duo of Paige Lungwitz and McKenzie Hartzog each chipped in 10 points apiece.
After getting dominated on the boards yesterday, Maize stepped up and ripped down 38 total rebounds to just 23 for Olathe South. The Falcons were led by Megan Balcom's 14 points and Bailey Rinehart's 13-point output.
Third Place: BV North 75, Topeka 59
Blue Valley North was never threatened by the Trojans on Saturday as the Mustangs jumped out to a 14-9 lead after one quarter and a 35-21 advantage at the half.
The big win can be attributed to the Mustangs shooting a blistering 65-perecent from the field in the game while holding Topeka to just 40-perecent.
Scott Edwards poured in a tournament-high 30 points on 10-for-13 shooting for the Mustangs. Teammate Connor Erickson chipped in 12 points in the win.
Topeka was led by the trio of Darryln Johnson, Tyus Jacob and Marcus Fillyaw. The three had 14, 13 and 11 points respectively.