As much as St. Thomas Aquinas senior Sereena Weledji was scoring in the paint, the shot that broke the Salina Central Mustangs’ back came from junior Blythe Pearson.
At the first-quarter buzzer Thursday afternoon in a Kansas 5A girls quarterfinal game, Pearson snapped a tie by banking in a three-pointer. The Mustangs never recovered.
Aquinas, the two-time defending state champions, outscored Salina Central by 17 points in the second quarter and cruised to a 57-30 victory at the Kansas Expocentre. Aquinas improved to 21-2 and will play at 3 p.m. Friday against Maize.
The shot of the game came when the score was tied 9-9 and the Mustangs were feeling good about themselves after erasing an early 6-0 deficit. It all changed on Pearson’s three-pointer, sending the Saints into the second quarter with a 12-9 lead.
“I think it is a big thing that we share the ball,” said Pearson, who finished with 13 points and was one of four Saints to score in double figures. “It gets us more hyped up. It doesn’t matter who gets the shot, but when it goes in everybody gets pumped up and ready for the next quarter.”
Weledji and senior Allison Thomas were tough to defend inside in the first quarter. That became a major problem for Salina Central in the second quarter.
“We continued to move the ball and we were good at getting other players the ball,” said Weledji, who finished with 17 points. “We got the ball inside and then kicked it back out and we kept moving it around. That was how we got good looks.”
Weledji and Thomas combined for 20 points in the first half as the Saints’ lead expanded to 35-15 at halftime. Pearson added 10 points in the first half.
“Our defense,” Weledji said on how the Saints broke the game open. “There was a lot of talking on defense.”
Pearson said the Saints get a lot of questions about winning three titles in a row.
“People ask us if we are excited or nervous,” Pearson said. “They go, ‘You guys got this.’ We got this when we get there.”
Maize 44, Mill Valley 37
A corner three-pointer by Maize freshman Sydney Holmes with fewer than 30 seconds left in the third quarter created a deficit for Mill Valley that it never recovered from.
The shot gave Maize a five-point lead, and it grew to 12 midway through the fourth quarter before Mill Valley made a dramatic comeback that fell short. In the end, Maize came away with the victory and will play No. 2 seed St. Thomas Aquinas in the semifinals at 3 p.m. Friday.
At halftime, the game was tied 13-13. The shot by Holmes, her only field goal of the game, gave the Eagles a little separation at 23-18 after three quarters. Their lead grew to 31-19.
Mill Valley went to a full-court press and it worked. When senior Evan Zars scored for Mill Valley, the Jaguars trailed only 35-32 with 2 minutes, 20 seconds left.
After Maize hit a couple of free throws, Mill Valley came right back and scored on a basket by junior Claire Kaifes, cutting the deficit to three at 37-34 with 1:40 left.
Maize kept hitting free throws, preventing Mill Valley from drawing closer. Kaifes led Mill Valley with 16 points, and Zars added 14. Mill Valley finished the season 18-5.
Liberal 62, St. James Academy 29
An active two-three zone by top seed Liberal proved to be a difficult puzzle to solve for St. James Academy. Liberal held St. James scoreless in the first quarter and built a 12-point lead.
Despite a few three-point bombs by St. James early in the second quarter, Liberal maintained control and came away with the victory. Liberal, 22-1, will play its semifinal game at 6:30 p.m. Friday. St. James finished its season 8-15.
The Thunder, which pulled off a few upsets to reach the quarterfinals, showed its fight early in the second quarter. A three-pointer by junior Torri Kempf put St. James on the scoreboard. Junior Claudia Russell followed with a three-pointer, slicing the Thunder’s deficit in half to 12-6.
But St. James was unable to sustain the outside shooting against Liberal’s pesky zone. The Thunder went into halftime trailing 27-9. Russell led St. James with 14 points, making four three-pointers.
Bishop Carroll 77, Schlagle 56
Schlagle ran into a Bishop Carroll team that was clicking on all cylinders on offense in the first half. Despite some nice plays on offense by Schlagle, the Stallions stared at a 14-point halftime deficit because Carroll notched 41 points.
But Schlagle made a spirited run at the Eagles in the third quarter before falling 77-56 in final Kansas 5A quarterfinal of the evening. Carroll, 18-5, will take on No. 1 seed Liberal at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
The Stallions finished 16-6. They showed their fire at the start of the third quarter. Trailing 41-27, Schlagle began the quarter with a three-pointer followed by a field goal from sophomore Ishante Suttington and a three-pointer from junior Kenaja Green, making it 41-35.
A few minutes later the Stallions closed to 43-41 with just under 2 minutes remaining in the third quarter. But Carroll responded by scoring the next six points to push its lead back to eight.
When the smoke cleared from a high-octane third quarter, Carroll went into the final quarter with a 55-44 lead.