By Tyler Schneider
The Center (18-8, District Champions, Class 4 Elite 8) Yellowjackets powered through their MSHSAA Class 4, District 14 bracket with a 72-47 win over Central (Kansas City) High School on March 1. The clincher arrived two days later in the form of a 69-55 statement win over Southeast (17-10).
Armand Russell led the team against Southeast with 30 points, followed by Keyon Spiller with 14 and Joseph Vick with 8. The victory marked Center’s first District Championship since 2018.
Three days later, Center arrived at William Jewell College to face a familiar regional foe in Class 4, District 13 champ, Barstow (12-14) in the first round of the MSHSAA Class 4 State Tournament. Again, the Yellowjackets maintained their control en route to securing the victory in a low scoring 49-32 final.
Alas, that memorable run would finally come to a close in the Elite 8 round at the hands of a well-oiled Lafayette (St. Joseph) (22-7) machine that powered through to a 61-41 margin of victory.
[To see highlights from Center’s game against Southeast, click here.]
Ruskin (20-9, District Champions, Class 5 Elite 8) had one of the most successful years in program history, winning twenty games for the first time since 2020 and for only the second time since 2008—the year after the Eagles won their one and only state championship.
As they had for the second half of their season, the Ruskin boys maintained a terrific pace early on in the postseason, winning their Class 5, District 7 bracket outright with a 76-62 no doubter over Belton following a routine first-round 48-36 clearing of Raytown South, plus an impressive 79-63 trouncing over Webb City (17-11) on March 3.
The Eagles had won seven games in a row and were set to tip off in an Elite 8 matchup against a devastatingly efficient Pembroke Hill (20-5) foe on March 10, at State Fair Community College in Sedalia.
Pembroke Hill showed no mercy, however, besting the Eagles 70-42 to advance to their seventh Final Four in program history.
Ruskin’s Devonte Watson and Jaquan Smith were rewarded for their stellar seasons with selections to the Greater Kansas City Suburban Conference’s First-Team All-Conference lineup. Pierre Smith was also selected as a Second-Team honoree.
The Raiders, who will play Cardinal Ritter (26-4) in Springfield, March 17, are led by returning senior captain, Andrew Kim, and head coach Jeff Hawkins—a former University of Kansas player. Pembroke is seeking its third state title.
Grandview (20-7) played an admirable tournament, coming in as the one-seed and defeated eighth-seed Warrensburg 69-62. Unfortunately, they drew a surging Belton squad who also had some odds in their favor as the host school. In the end, Belton advanced past the Bulldogs, 62-51, to meet Ruskin in the final, where they lost, 76-62.
Grandview’s Jayden Renfrow and Josiah Kirkwood earned First-Team All-Greater Kansas City Suburban Conference honors, with Kyan Arrandale also recognized as an Honorable Mention.
Belton (17-12) finished just shy of advancing on to state, but the boys did finish with the fourth most wins in school history, a conference title, and several key individual accolades and milestones for its top players.
The Greater Kansas City Suburban Conference’s White Division named Belton’s Gio Mack its Player of the Year earlier this month, putting two Pirates in the First Team All-Conference roster along with Greg Lyles. The latter, a senior, recently became the fourth ever Pirate to score 1,000 points in his prep career back on March 6. Kordell Williams was selected to the Second-Team All-Conference squad, while Cooper Shrum was added as an Honorable Mention.
Rockhurst (11-14) managed to fall three games below .500 by season’s end and yet still managed to elevate themselves to a runner-up finish in the Class 6, District 6 Tournament. The Hawklets opened up their district efforts with a 71-55 win over Raytown, March 1, followed by a 59-55 overtime thriller victory against Lee’s Summit, March 3. Lee’s Summit West would finally end their season, 55-39, March 6.
Barstow (12-14) had a bizarre year in falling two games under .500 and still winning the Class 4, District 13 Tournament. They would see their season conclude at the hands of Center, March 6, by a margin of 49-32.
Sam Christifano and Aidan Lawlor both earned First-Team All-Crossroads Conference honors, while Josh Thorton nabbed a Second-Team nod.
To recap all of the action, visit https://www.mshsaa.org/Activities/Info/Basketball.aspx.