St. Thomas Aquinas passed its quarterfinal test in defense of its Kansas 5A girls state title. The Saints defeated Bishop Carroll 37-23 Wednesday evening at the Kansas Expocentre.
The win by the Saints sets up a rematch of last year’s 5A state championship game in which Aquinas prevented Leavenworth from winning its third straight title. Leavenworth got some revenge earlier this season, beating Aquinas 37-34 on Jan. 28. But that is all history.
When Aquinas (20-3) takes on Leavenworth (20-3) in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Friday, the game will definitely have a state championship atmosphere. Over the last four years, each team has won two state titles.
“We have been looking forward to it all year,” said Aquinas junior Blythe Pearson, who finished with 11 points Wednesday. “We played them once already and we lost by a couple of points. We are ready.”
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In order to make the dream matchup possible, the Saints needed to play a solid fourth quarter to put Carroll away.
Aquinas entered the fourth quarter ahead 26-17, then used great ball movement and patience on offense to slowly expand its lead to 32-21 with 2:20 left.
“Our spacing was a little better in the fourth quarter than the rest of the game,” Aquinas coach Rick Hetzel said. “We didn’t stand around as much, so the ball moved a little better.”
Defensively, the Saints prevented Carroll from getting into an offensive rhythm all game. The most points the Eagles scored in one quarter was eight in the third period.
“We came out with an attitude to play some defense,” Hetzel said. “I thought the kids stepped it up tonight.”
Aquinas started the game getting three-pointers from Pearson and freshman Molly Hartnett for an early 6-0 lead. Aquinas never relinquished the lead and went into halftime ahead 15-9.
Leavenworth 45, Newton 40
Leavenworth simply knows how to win in the quarterfinals of the Kansas 5A state girls basketball tournament.
For the fourth year in a row, the Pioneers will play in the semifinals after defeating Newton 45-40 Wednesday evening at the Kansas Expocentre.
One players who has experienced a lot of that success is senior guard Zoie Haywood, who scored 14 points.
“This is my fourth time here,” Haywood said. “For the younger kids, sophomores and some of the juniors who didn’t play much last year, it is kind of nerve-racking. Today they stepped up big-time and did what they needed to do for us.”
The Pioneers leaned on their successful tournament experience to get them through the fourth quarter. Even though Leavenworth trailed only once in the game, the Pioneers could never build a comfortable lead against Newton.
Leavenworth entered the fourth quarter ahead 31-24, but saw that lead whittled down to 35-32 with 3 minutes, 55 seconds left.
Two free throws by Haywood 11 seconds later pushed Leavenworth’s lead back to five. Newton responded with a basket a minute later.
The Pioneers kept making just enough plays to prevent Newton from drawing any closer. And when junior Aarika Lister hit two free throws with 1:13 left, Leavenworth held a 40-34 lead.
Lister, who finished with a game-high 17 points, was clutch at the free-throw line. She hit two more free throws with 37 seconds left that made it 42-36. Those points were important because Newton needed only 6 seconds to score a field goal.
In the last minute, Leavenworth made seven out of eight free throws to put the game away.
“Those free throws were huge,” Haywood said. “It is something we do every day, shoot a lot of free throws. Those are expected to be made in a game.”
The first half was just as close. Leavenworth nearly led the entire half and took a 21-17 lead into halftime. Newton grabbed its only lead in the first quarter at 3-2. The Pioneers immediately went back in front 4-3 on a basket by Lister.
After the first quarter, the Pioneers led 10-6 and extended their advantage to 16-9 midway through the second quarter. Newton stormed back and scored the next seven points and tied the game at 16-16.
Leavenworth concluded the second quarter by scoring five of the last six-points for a four-point lead.
Maize 51, De Soto 17
De Soto faced a daunting task Wednesday afternoon when the Wildcats faced No. 1 seed Maize in the quarterfinals of the Kansas 5A girls state basketball tournament in Topeka.
It didn’t help that Maize went to a pressure defense in the opening minutes, which didn’t allow the Wildcats to settle into the game. De Soto never recovered from scoring just two points in the first quarter, falling 51-17 at the Kansas Expocentre.
De Soto finished the season 15-8.
“We knew they would be long and athletic,” De Soto coach Ryan Robie said. “They try to get their offense based on their defense. They definitely did that tonight.”
Maize scored the first five points of the game and ended the quarter with a 13-2 lead.
One bright spot for De Soto in the second quarter was freshman Mackenzie Shupe, who came off the bench and made two field goals. As a team, the Wildcats only scored six points in the quarter and went into halftime down 24-8.
“She played really well in the Pittsburg game,” Robie said. “She just brings a whole different level of athleticism and attacking, play-making ability. That is why she is here as a freshman.”
Despite the large deficit, De Soto continued to play hard in the third quarter, but the ball just didn’t drop for the Wildcats.
Salina Central 58, Schlagle 47
Schlagle needed a quarter and half to recover from a 10-point deficit at the end of the first period. But once the Stallions tied the game midway through the third quarter, they gave up the next 10 to Salina Central.
The second 10-point deficit was too much for the Stallions to overcome in a quarterfinal loss.
It took a lot of hard work for Schlagle to recover from a 16-6 deficit after one quarter. But the Stallions did it, forging a 33-33 tied with 3 minutes, 44 seconds left in the third quarter on a three-point play by freshman Ishante Suttington.
After a three-point play by Schlagle freshman Ishante Suttington tied the game at 33-all with 3 minutes, 44 seconds left in the third quarter, Salina Central junior Myah Ward ingited a 10-0 run with a deep three-pointer.
In the end, three-pointers by the Mustangs and the inside play of 6-foot junior Elisabeth Backes was too potent for Schlagle to handle. Salina Central made eight three-pointers and Backes had a double-double, scoring 18 points and pulling down 14 rebounds.
Despite playing behind nearly the entire game, Schlagle competed and forced the Mustangs to play hard for four quarters.
Trailing 18-10 early in the second quarter, Schlagle quickly closed to two on back-to-back three-pointers from S’Mone Springsteen and Kiara Brown.
Salina Central answered with seven straight points to extend its lead to 25-16. The Stallions prevented their deficit from reaching double digits by scoring the next four points.
The offensive rebounding by the Mustangs allowed them to take 29-23 lead into halftime. Salina Central pulled down nine offensive rebounds in the first half and that led to 11 second-chance points.