It was fitting for the ball to end in the hands of Nicole Corrigan, as the senior dribbled out the final seconds of the second straight Kansas Class 5A championship for the St. Thomas Aquinas girls basketball team.
Aquinas defeated Maize 47-35 on Saturday at the Kansas Expocentre, winning back-to-back titles for the first time in its history with Corrigan, the team’s lone senior, serving as the most influential player in its title defense.
“It means so much to be the senior to lead the team to back-to-back,” Corrigan said. “I kind of wanted to throw the ball up, but I kept my composure. That was the best moment of my life.”
Corrigan doesn’t score very much, but her ball handling, defense, and leadership has been invaluable to a young Aquinas team.
“She’s a special, special kid,” Aquinas coach Rick Hetzel said. “She took care of these kids all year long and she’s been an outstanding leader and just a great kid.”
Aquinas won in typical fashion, frustrating its opponent with smothering defense and manufacturing just enough offense to win.
Maize missed 29 of its first 32 shots and went 20 minutes between made field goals, a stretch that started early in the second quarter and didn’t end until midway through the fourth quarter.
Even though Aquinas only scored 26 points through three quarters, it led by 12 because its defense was limiting Maize to under 15 percent shooting.
“When you play so hard on defense, and I thought we were playing really well defensively, it’s so hard to come down and not be able to make a shot,” Maize coach Jerrod Handy said. “It takes so much out of you. It’s very defeating after a while.”
Maize rallied within eight points late in the fourth quarter, but Aquinas made 23 of 28 free throws in the game to hold off Maize.
Corrigan made 8 of 9 free throws and scored a team-high 11 points, while Alayna Townsell had 10 points and Sereena Weledji added nine points and 10 rebounds.
“The biggest challenge for us this season was to focus on one game at a time,” Corrigan said. “We had such a young team that we had to learn to focus and I thought we did a great job.”
Third-place: Leavenworth 52, Salina Central 41
Leavenworth beat Salina Central in Saturday’s third-place game at the Kansas Expocentre.
Leavenworth, which lost to Aquinas 47-38 on Friday, ended the season with a 21-4 record.