With a virtually new lineup, Eudora boys basketball continues to surprise

Eudora's Jayden Pierce (23) attempts to drive to the basket on Baldwin Hunter Ramirez (2).

Eudora High’s boys basketball players know they were doubted at the beginning of the season by opposing teams.

They no longer had Mitchell Ballock, last year’s Gatorade Player of the Year, to run the offense. In fact, only two players entered the season with extensive varsity experience: Rock Jerome and Jayden Pierce. But they’ve even surprised themselves at times.

On a seven-game winning streak, the Cardinals have surged to fourth in the Class 4A-I rankings by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association with a 12-3 record.

“For the most part, we’ve been pretty competitive all year,” Eudora coach Kyle Deterding said. “Going into the year, I wasn’t sure how often we’d be competitive so that’s been a pleasant surprise.”

With a focus on defense, the Cardinals have held opponents to 45 points or less in five of their last six games. On offense, senior Noah Katzenmeier described the difference from last year’s team, which featured Ballock, as playing with a LeBron James-type player who can “go out there and score 20 every night” to the San Antonio Spurs with a well-balanced team.

Now the Cardinals just try to find the hot hand. Pierce, a junior, is talented in the low post and surprised teammates with his ability to hit threes. Jerome can use his athleticism to score in the paint. Katzenmeier knows how to find his way to the free-throw line.

“I think a lot of it is we’re just really good friends outside of school and in school,” Katzenmeier said. “We’ve just known each other for such a long time. It’s just a lot of different personalities on the team and we all just really match well together. A lot of funny guys, a lot of personality on the team, I think really helps.”

Deterding said the Cardinals used the summer develop and make sure all of the players were on the same page. There hasn’t been much difference in the way they’ve played all season leading into their current winning streak — which includes their fifth straight Tonganoxie Invitational title.

Perhaps, they’ve just grown more and more into their roles. Gavin Elston and Lonnie Ford have provided a boost on the defensive end. Tanner Rocha — “the loudest personality,” according to Katzenmeier — hypes up his teammates when he takes charges. William Younkin is a strong shooter and Caleb Zimmerman is capable of scoring in flurries.

The Cardinals leaned on varsity returners Jerome and Pierce at the start of the year and now opposing teams have to prepare for a number of potential scorers and defensive stoppers.

“The first couple of games, I was going pretty hard on myself,” Jerome said. “Then I just needed to get my teammates involved and everything paid off from there.”

Without paying much attention to the winning streak, which has now stretched a month, players said their focus is making sure they continue to improve. Deterding called the Frontier League “very, very even.” But with a quick chance to reflect on their season to this point, they are proud of what they’ve done so far.

“At the beginning of the season, we all had hoped we could do pretty well,” Katzenmeier said. “We played decent over the summer. It’s really nice to just prove some of the people wrong that didn’t think we were going to do well.”