Joco Sports

Aquinas girls eke out a win over Mill Valley for Kansas 5A championship

Updated: 2013-03-10T04:26:51Z

By CHARLES REDFIELD

Special to The Star

— The St. Thomas Aquinas and Mill Valley girls staged a record-setting performance Saturday in the Class 5A state championship game — a record for offensive futility.

It ended when Mill Valley’s Tanner Tripp tossed up one last missed shot, giving the Saints a 23-22 victory and their fourth state title.

The combined 45 points was the lowest ever scored in a Kansas girls state championship game, regardless of class.

However, whatever the game lacked in offensive efficiency, it made up for in drama.

The Saints took a 21-16 lead into the fourth quarter.

But a three-pointer by Mill Valley senior Stephanie Lichtenaur cut the margin to 21-19 with 6:35 left. Then with a little over five minutes left, the Jaguars tied the game at 21-21 on two free throws by Tripp.

Saints freshman Skylar Young quickly countered with a drive to the basket for a two-point Aquinas lead.

Lichtenaur then hit one of two free throws at the 3:32 mark to make it a one-point game.

And that was the last point of the game.

The Saints tried to milk the clock, but turned the ball over several times. Yet the Jaguars were unable to convert.

With a little over a minute to play, the Saints went to their delay. Mill Valley had to foul three times before getting to its seventh foul with 11.4 seconds left.

The Saints’ best free thrower shooter, Kendra Weledji, went to the line — and missed.

“I was so mad that I missed,” she said. “I’m really glad we were still able to pull it out.”

Mill Valley called timeout with 2.6 seconds left to set up a last play. They inbounded the ball at mid-court and got the ball to Tripp along the left baseline. Her runner hit the backboard and skipped off.

“We knew we wanted to make them catch it going away from the basket,” senior Haleigh Cindrich said. “We knew we couldn’t foul because we had nine fouls.”

Throughout the tournament, 24-1 Aquinas had little margin for error.

The Saints beat Leavenworth 54-47 in double overtime in the quarterfinals and then nipped Newton 42-40 in the semifinals.

“This is the greatest defensive team we’ve ever had at Aquinas,” Saints coach Rick Hetzel said. “They will always remember this game and this tournament.

“Mill Valley battled us hard. Coach (John) McFall is a great coach.”

Weledji led the Saints in scoring with nine points.

The Saints were hurt in the first half, converting just two of six chances for points off offensive rebounds.

“We just missed too many easy shots in the first half,” Hetzel said.

Tripp was the leading scorer in the game with 14 points.

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