WICHITA — The jacket came off and Olathe Northwest coach Joel Branstrom sent it flying with 36.2 seconds left in overtime Thursday in the Class 6A quarterfinals against Blue Valley North at Wichita State’s Koch Arena.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Upset by a no-call on Arkansas-bound senior Kelsey Brooks’ drive to the basket, Branstrom’s outburst drew a technical and proved to be the tipping point in a 58-55 win for the Mustangs.
BV North, 19-4, led 52-50 at the time but added four points to that advantage when senior Ali Pollard hit the technical freebies and fellow senior Christian Keys added two more on the ensuing possession.
“I’m very regretful that I lost my cool,” said Branstrom, the mild-mannered former Kansas walk-on who enjoyed a measure of fame (and a free trip to the NCAA Final Four) when he hit a blindfolded half-court shot three years ago at a pep rally. “It’s a game of emotion, but we lose by three points and that was two points and the ball right there. There’s the game. That’s definitely on me.”
Of course, the Ravens, 18-5, could have avoided overtime by hitting free throws late in regulation.
The Mustangs stormed to a 14-5 first-quarter lead behind senior Caroline Dupont, who finished with 12 points and a game-best 13 rebounds.
Dupont set the tone in the paint early for BV North, which controlled the boards 57-31 and badgered Northwest senior Mikey Crall into foul trouble practically from the opening whistle.
“We were really focused and pumped up,” Mustangs senior Bria Pierce said. “We were great in transition, and it led to a great half.”
Despite the struggles and BV North’s early brilliance, the Ravens only trailed 32-28 at intermission and quickly surged into the lead with an 8-0 run to open the third quarter.
Still in front 46-42 entering the last minute of regulation, Brooks, who finished with 15 points before fouling out, missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Moments later, so did fellow Northwest senior Jaylah Jackson.
“Those are the kids you want shooting free throws,” Branstrom said. “That’s was an opportunity obviously, and your heart goes out to them missing those.”
Between those crucial misses, Pierce, who finished with 14 points and six rebounds, scored a put-back that cut the deficit in half.
She then rebounded Jackson’s missed freebie and triggered the game-tying fast break with a kick ahead to freshman Trinity Cuffee, whose layup at the 7-second mark forced overtime.
“This was probably Bria’s best game of the year,” BV North coach Ann Fritz said. “She really stepped up and was a leader down the stretch. She didn’t get rattled. I was proud of how she played and kept the team together. She’s relentless.”
Next, BV North faces No. 1 seed Wichita South, 22-1, at 3 p.m. Friday in the semifinals.
Wichita Heights 50, Olathe South 43
Meeting for the sixth time in the last seven seasons at the state tourney, Wichita Heights leveled the all-time series against Olathe South.
South, 20-2, jumped ahead early behind freshman Zoe Matje, who scored 11 in the first half as the Falcons grabbed a 23-18 halftime lead.
Heights, 17-6, rallied into the lead behind a suffocating third-quarter press then finished off South, which committed 18 turnovers, at the free-throw line, going eight-for-10 in the closing two minutes.
“Our girls played their hearts out and did everything we asked them to, but their press was just a little bit better than we could handle,” South coach Steve Ingram said.
Wichita South 36, Blue Valley 31
Blue Valley senior Jarin Braithwait did everything she could, scoring 19 points on seven-for-11 shooting with a team-high nine rebounds, but it wasn’t enough.
“We tried our best, so we’re still proud,” Braithwait said. “We definitely could have beaten them, but it just wasn’t our night shooting-wise.”
Aside from Braithwait, the Tigers, 13-10, shot two-for-21 as a team, but still led until the final few minutes.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.