Eagles move into semis with 53-47 win over Highland Park

Maize will play in the semifinals at 2 p.m. Friday

Laney Turner, Regal Red Yearbook editor

EMPORIA — The Eagles boys basketball team is back in the state semifinals, but it wasn’t easy.

 After struggling in the first half and early in the third quarter the Eagles took the lead and hung on for a 53-47 victory against Topeka Highland Park on Wednesday. 

“Once we finally settled down offensively, we started getting some good looks,” coach Chris Grill said. “Got a couple stops in a row and were able to catch the lead.”

The fourth-seeded Eagles (19-4) will play eighth-seeded Topeka Seaman (16-7) at 2 p.m. Friday at White Auditorium. Seaman defeated top seeded Kapaun Mt. Carmel 54-43. 

The Eagles will be playing for a chance to go to their second consecutive state championship game. A number of players returned from last year’s title team and they relied on that experience after trailing in the first half. 

“We’ve been here before,” said senior Kyle Grill, one of three Eagles in double figures with 12 points. “A lot of our guys had played big minutes last year in the state tournament.”

Senior Jaden Gustafson led the Eagles with 15 points. 

“It feels very rewarding,” Gustafson said. “I didn’t want my career to end.”

Senior Sam Schmidt, who didn’t start last season but played a key role as a reserve, scored 12 points. Eight of them came in the fourth quarter. 

“It feels good,” Schmidt said. “We have two games guaranteed, but I want to play for the championship. Let’s end it on a good part.” 

In addition to leading a team to the state semifinals for the third time in four seasons, Chris Grill picked up his 300th career victory as a head coach. Grill has coached for 21 seasons in Maize, Andover and Garden Plain. 

“There’s a lot of players over the years that made that happen, and all have been a part of it,” he said. “It’s fortunate I have been a coach this long to get that.”