The William Chrisman boys basketball team is on pace to have its best season in a decade, and it’s had success so far this season due to balanced scoring and solid defense.

It’s been common for the Bears to have three to four players in double figures most games. In Wednesday’s semifinal game of the 44th Annual Summit Grill Shootout, they followed that successful script.

Senior guard Dawson Herl was the engine that powered the Chrisman offense that had three guys in double figures. He scored a game-high 23 points and was backed by a solid defensive effort in a 59-50 win over Lee’s Summit West at Lee’s Summit High School.

“It’s fun playing with these guys and just distributing the ball,” said Herl, who also had six rebounds. “It was my night tonight, but we usually have two, three guys in double figures.”

The Bears (12-3) advance to Friday’s 8:30 p.m. championship game against Raytown, which defeated Lee’s Summit 66-49 in the other semifinal.

Herl, who has been known for being a gritty and physical player in the paint, showed his versatility by scoring in different ways. He hit 3-pointers, made driving layups, hit free throws and muscled his way into the paint for a pair of baskets.

He successfully navigated West’s zone defense by finding the holes for open looks at the basket. The senior also had help from his teammates, who drove to the rim and kicked it out to him for 3-pointers.

“With their zone defense, we had to change our offense, and Dawson did a good job adapting to that,” Chrisman coach Jake Kates said.

Herl was also a part of a strong defensive effort from Chrisman, as Kates noted that was a big reason for the win. The coach noted that his guards did a good job of shutting down one of West’s key players – guard Rich Johnson, who was held to 11 points, nine in the first half.

“Our offense was really ugly in the first half and this win came down to our defense,” Kates said. “If we hadn’t been playing the (defense) that we were playing, we wouldn’t have even been in the game.

“I am really proud of the way we played on defense. We took their best player (Johnson) out of the game. He was of no impact, really.”

Senior forward Jalen Moore was also a huge part of the defensive effort, and he accomplished a tremendous feat in the process. He notched six blocks against the Titans, and had seven blocks in the first-round game against Lincoln Prep, bringing his total to 13. That broke the tournament record for most total blocks and his team still has one more game to play.

“He’s anticipating the shot, his timing is good and he’s getting up top now instead of down low,” Kates said of Moore’s shot blocking. “He did swipe at one today. We are trying to get him not to do that.”

The Titans jumped out to a 11-9 lead in the first period, but Herl helped his team get the lead back when he hit a 3-pointer early in the second to make it 14-13. The Bears went on a 7-0 run late capped by Tony Hilton’s 3-ball as they went into halftime up 30-25.

West kept it close and eventually narrowed the gap to 34-33 midway through the third when Tysen Brennan got a fast-break layup off of Johnson’s steal.

The Bears then turned up the defensive intensity and held the Titans to just two points from there. Herl had a basket inside and Hilton, who had 10 points, connected on another 3-pointer to make it 39-33. Late in the period, reserve guard Zachariah Rowe, who had 10 points, hit two key treys off drives and kick-outs from junior guard Isaiah Jackson to help Chrisman take a 45-35 advantage into the final period.

“I am glad my teammates were looking for me,” Rowe said. “They knew I would be open. I had the hot hand at the time and they created the shots for me.”

Chrisman didn’t let West get any closer than eight points the rest of the way as it handled the Titans’ zone press pretty well for most of the fourth quarter. Herl opened the period with a three to open up a 13-point lead. He and Hilton also had open layups on the press break which kept the Titans from gaining momentum.

At 12-3, the Bears are off to their best start in a long time. In 2009, Chrisman won 19 games, and had 21 wins combined in the past three seasons. This fast start might be a surprise to some, but not to the players or Kates.

“Yes, we did,” Rowe said, when asked if the players expected this much success. “We’ve been talking about it since the summertime and worked hard. It’s starting to show and starting to pay off.”

Added Kates: “We knew we had a special team this year, and I have a blast watching these guys play.”