With her arms in the air, Leavenworth senior Rachel Blackburn let out a primal yell and announced her presence to the crowd at Olathe South High School.
Blackburn had just driven into the paint, where she made a field goal and drew a foul. That gave Leavenworth the lead. But Blackburn also showed that despite a meager start the Pioneers were not laying down.
Over the next 12 minutes, Leavenworth, the defending Kansas Class 5A state champion, put together a decisive run that lifted the Pioneers to a 47-34 victory against Sunflower League rival Olathe South on Friday night.
“She is a big-time energy player for us,” Leavenworth coach Jordan Mellott said. “She gets out there and gets after it. When she makes plays the whole team gets going.”
Olathe South came roaring out of the locker room with oppressive defense and a 14-2 run to start the game. They held Blackburn and Leavenworth’s other two Division I signees, Tashia Jones and Tyler Johnson, scoreless in the first quarter.
“They came in with a good game plan sucking down on our bigs and making us hit outside shots,” Mellott said. “By working the ball around and hitting some shots we opened it up a little bit and got inside where we needed to be.”
Momentum swung to the Pioneers in the second quarter when they outscored the Falcons 16-4 and took a one-point lead into halftime.
Midway through the third, Blackburn’s basket sparked a 21-7 run that put the game away.
Even though Blackburn, Jones and Johnson command most of the attention, the Pioneers relied on a balanced attack. Seven players scored for Leavenworth, and none of them reached double figures. The big three combined for 21 points. Sophomore Alicia Brown led the way with nine points.
“We have some really good players on our team, and it’s never just one person scoring,” Blackburn said. “We are a team. We score as a team and play defense as a team.”
With the victory, Leavenworth improved to 12-2 and evened the Sunflower League standings by handing Olathe South its first league loss.
Leavenworth had previously lost to Shawnee Mission Northwest, and SM Northwest’s only league loss is Olathe South.
In fact, entering play on Friday there were six teams with only one league loss and five of them had four of fewer losses overall.
“The Sunflower League is a great league, and we cannot take anybody lightly,” Mellott said. “They all play a different style so we have to be ready for everything. This a good win for us, and now we’ve got to go focus on the next game.”