Through the first three games of this season, the Manhattan High girls’ basketball team has been led by either Elayna Spilker, Darby Price or both.
Saturday against Great Bend, the Indians proved they have more than just two weapons in their arsenal.
Sophomore Caroline Ballard scored 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting to give Manhattan the boost it needed to keep Great Bend at arm’s length throughout the afternoon. Head coach Scott Mall said Ballard, just a sophomore, is starting to put everything together on the court.
“It makes a huge difference, especially because in practice, (Ballard) is always such a weapon,” Mall said. “She shoots the ball well from the edge, moves pretty well, but the fact she’s struggled a little bit is understandable, because she’s a sophomore playing her first real varsity action.”
Manhattan built a 10-point lead in the first quarter behind the soft touch of Price inside. The junior missed her first attempt of the game before rattling off five straight makes, scoring 10 of her 19 points in the first quarter while Great Bend attempted to guard her one on one.
“Darby in the first quarter really did everything for us offensively,” Mall said. “They were leaving her in there one on one, and she made them pay for that and scored points. Then when they did a better job on her, Caroline responded and made some big plays.”
The Manhattan lead ballooned to as many as 21 in the third quarter before the Panthers made their run in the fourth quarter, but they never got closer than nine.
“I thought we really did a good job of getting that lead up to where we got it, making good plays,” Mall said. “We had to do a lot of things defensively — they’re tough defensively because they take the ball to the hole so hard and they can hit some 3s. But I thought the girls really worked through some things and put themselves in a position where when they made a run at the end, we had enough to hold them off.”
The Indians shot 46 percent from the floor in the game, but didn’t find as much success from the free-throw line, finishing 8 of 18 in a physical game.
“Our league is very physical,” he said. “If this was physical, when we go play Emporia, this’ll be nothing compared to then. It’s good for us to get used to it. We just need to shoot free throws better. We could have won by a much larger margin if we hit half of some of those free throws.”
Leading the way for Great Bend was Morgan Harwood and McKenna Mauler with 10 points apiece. The Panthers shot 32 percent from the field, but did finish 5 of 15 from long range, despite playing on tired legs. Both teams played games Friday night as part of a scheduling agreement between Great Bend, Dodge City and Junction City. Manhattan and Junction City will travel to both schools next season.
“I thought we got a little tired,” Mall said. “Last night, we expended a lot of energy. Elayna hit the floor a lot, and everybody got to play a lot of minutes in a close game. There were times we showed some legs, but I thought the girls fought through it really well.”