Carter Riley leads South Gray to league tourney title

South Gray defeated Meade 54-44 to win the SPIAA Championship Game at the United Wireless Arena...
South Gray defeated Meade 54-44 to win the SPIAA Championship Game at the United Wireless Arena in Dodge City on Saturday, January 30, 2021. (Photo: Everett Royer, J Royer)
Published: Feb. 2, 2021 at 1:11 PM CST
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DODGE CITY, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Montezuma-South Gray senior center Carter Riley is 6-foot-5, 260 pounds. Last winter, Riley averaged nine points and 5.4 rebounds for a Rebel squad that finished 21-4 and third in the Southern Plains Iroquois league tournament. It marked a rare season where the Rebels neither captured the league tournament or advanced to state.

Riley delivered improvement with several facets. On his grandfather’s beset, Riley returned to football as a junior and became a standout offensive lineman this fall. Riley continually worked with his team in the summer to build chemistry, conditioning and footwork. During the season, he drills with head coach Mark Applegate.

The work has yielded an all-state caliber season for Riley, including a near-perfect shooting performance in a 54-44 win against Meade in the SPIAA tournament championship game Saturday night at Dodge City’s United Wireless Arena.

“He’s turned into a really good post,” Applegate said. “It helped him going out for football last year and this year.”

Riley paced South Gray with 18 points on 8 of 9 from the field and 2 of 2 from the free throw line. He tacked on four rebounds and a pair of blocks. Overall, Riley has delivered 14.4 points and 7.5 rebounds a contest. In the last three games, Riley has scored 21, 24 and 18 points. Before then, his season best was 18 in the year’s first game.

“He said, ‘My footwork is one of the biggest things that I got, and my speed,’” Riley said of Applegate.

South Gray has played in the SPIAA finals 12 times in 14 years. Three winters ago, SG won the title en route to the only undefeated season under Applegate, now in his 39th year with the Montezuma school district. Applegate has more than 710 career victories and four state titles. Saturday’s win bumped SG, ranked second in Class 1A, Division I, to 11-0.

“It just feels really good to bring home that win for our community,” Riley said.

Riley did not play football his first two seasons, though his grandfather wanted him to return to the game. Riley started at guard as a junior and moved to center this fall on a surprise Rebel squad that finished 8-2, the team’s best season since 2011.

Riley improved his squat and footwork with head football coach Grant Salmans and offensive coordinator Jeff Blattner. Salmans has served as Applegate’s assistant nearly two decades in basketball. Riley will play football at Dodge City Community College.

In the summer, Riley noted speed and acceleration ladders helped him move better in the post.

“Our chemistry is super well together,” Riley said. “That’s the thing out here. We all know exactly what we are doing. We just know what moves we are going to do, and it’s just that chemistry. We improve that chemistry a lot over the summer – six a.m. workouts together, that’s a big thing, too.”

South Gray has historically produced strong post players, including Gilbert Peters three years ago. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Peters was first team all-state for all classes and currently is a sophomore on the Fort Hays basketball team.

In addition to Riley, South Gray has senior Aaron Skidmore. He has elicited college football interest after a first team all-state season. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Skidmore finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds. He averages 15.8 points and 7.3 rebounds a game this winter. Skidmore has cleared 1,000 career points.

“We just try to get seals,” Applegate said. “Whether they are baseline seal or center seal or front seal. We just try to get a seal to create an angle to get the ball in, and Carter does a pretty good job of doing that, and Aaron Skidmore does.”

Meade, ranked fifth in 1A, Division I, dropped to 10-3. The Buffs had switched from the Hi-Plains League to the SPIAA this winter. SG beat Meade, 64-38, on Dec. 8. In that contest, SG shot 55 percent from the field, including 7 of 15 from 3-point range.

This time, South Gray, known for its shooting, went 1 of 10 from long range. The lone trey came on SG’s first basket from junior Brady Deges. Meade, which finished plus-9 on the glass, took an 8-7 lead. Riley made his first basket for a 9-8 advantage off an offensive rebound with 1:54 left in the first quarter.

“We have to rely on our execution of our offense, and there’s times that we didn’t do that very well,” Applegate said.

Meade let 22-21 in the final seconds of the first half. Senior Vance Shewey, who averages 19 points and nine rebounds a contest, paced Meade with 12 points.

“Meade’s a good team,” Applegate said. “We knew coming in that they were going to be scrappy, and they were going to go after the ball, and they did. I mean, the first half, we really didn’t play very well at all. The second half was better than the first, but we could have played better.”

Riley completed the first half with three big plays. He delivered a steal, and then a basket off a missed 3-pointer for a 23-22 advantage. Then, Riley finished the quarter with a block. Riley opened the second half with back-to-back baskets, part of a 10-0 third quarter run.

South Gray led 38-30 after three quarters. Overall, South Gray shot 21 of 31 (68 percent) inside the arc. Meade was 41 percent (15 of 37) on 2-point attempts.

“They were playing tough, so I was going to have to play tough right back,” Riley said. “And that’s what coach Applegate told us. He said, ‘I want you to play defense right up on them, just like how they are playing defense right up on you, and you have to be the bigger man, and be stronger and faster than them.’”

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