WICHITA — Scott Mall told his team it was the first time he didn’t think they were the better team this season.
Making its first trip to state in 21 years, the Manhattan High girls’ basketball team lost to Olathe South 61-40 on Wednesday night in the opening round of the Class 6A state tournament at Koch Arena.
Mall said his team had nothing to be ashamed of after running into a powerful first-round opponent in the Falcons, who pushed the pace and intensity all night.
“I thought this was the first game all year where the other team was better than us, and it took 23 games for that to happen,” he said. “They were just more aggressive, they hit more shots, they came up with the loose balls and stuff. And yeah, we could have done some things better, but it didn’t feel like, after the first quarter, we played our style of ball again until the fourth quarter when we really dug down.
“These girls finished with the best winning percentage in school history, the first undefeated Centennial League winning season, and it hurts because they want to win, but hopefully in a few days they will look back and be proud, because I’m very proud of them.”
After a closer first half, it all started to get away from the Indians in the third quarter as a 7-0 run from the Falcons helped put them ahead by 13 points.
Onyeka Ehie scored the first basket of the half for MHS with 4:42 left in the period, but South came right back with an 8-0 run and it was 42-25 going into the fourth period.
Mari Jo Massanet took over for a short time in the fourth, keeping pace with the Falcons’ first seven points of the period by scoring the first seven points for MHS. Ehie also knocked down a 3 with 4:42 left to cut the lead to 14 points.
Olathe South made 4-of-6 shots at the free throw line, though, and added an inside basket to go up by 20 points. The Indians never got closer than 19 points the rest of the way.
Senior forward Alexandra Hugo, who was 8-of-10 from the field, led the Falcons with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Megan Balcom scored 16 points and hit 4 3-pointers.
Massanet scored 15 points for MHS, including nine in the fourth. Ehie finished with 13 points. The rest of the team was 5-for-28 from the field, and struggled to get find the bucket.
Mall said he though the rebounding battle, which MHS lost 46-34, hurt the Indians in the long run, particularly in the first half.
“They were just so much more aggressive than us on the offensive boards, and that was a killer,” he said. “We’ve done a really good job all year on defensive rebounding, and they were just so much more aggressive than us. That’s what probably worried me the most in the first half
The Indians played at the pace Olathe South looked to set early on, getting out and running with the Falcons on both ends of the court. Manhattan got an early 3 from Ehie and tied it at six with a 3-pointer from Jenna Crusinberry at the 6:16 mark.
Ehie and Darby Price would score back-to-back baskets to put the Indians up by four, but an 8-0 run from South’s Balcom pushed the Falcons ahead 14-10. The Indians outscored South 4-2 the rest of the period and trailed 16-14 after one quarter.
Par McNair scored the final field goal of the first for the Indians with 1:33 to play in the period, and MHS wouldn’t score again from the field until the last two-and-a-half minutes of the first half.
Instead, Olathe South opened the period on a 6-1 run to go ahead 22-15. Massanet hit a pair of free throws to make it 22-17, but the Falcons scored three straight to go ahead by eight.
Ehie scored the first field goal of the quarter with 2:22 to play in the half and the Indians didn’t score again before halftime, trailing 27-19.
Mall said it seemed like the team lost focus for a period in the second quarter, when the Falcons started pushing the pace.
“In the first quarter we hit some outside shots, which were nice to start out with, but once they were just so aggressive it seemed like we started to panic a little bit,” he said. “We didn’t make some plays that we usually make.”
Wednesday night also marked the final game in the careers of seniors Massanet, Ehie, Crusinberry and Pitchford. Mall said those four seniors will be ones to remember.
“We had four seniors and all of them played a role in a big win at some point this season - it wasn’t like they were all just a bit player, they all did something,” he said. “Mari Jo was outstanding, Ony really got better as the season went on, Jenna Crusinberry was great on defense this year and hit some big baskets. Veronica Pitchford came in with very little varsity experience and really hit key shots.
“They led the way, they set the standard for the other girls and they followed right along to give us the season we had.”
OLATHE SOUTH 61,
Olathe South 16 11 15 19 — 61
Manhattan 14 5 6 15 — 40
OLATHE SOUTH (61) — Hugo 23, Balcom 16, Morton 8, Rinehart 5, Kopatich 4, White 3, Samskey 2.
MANHATTAN (40) — Massanet 15, Ehie 13, Crusinberry 6, Price 2, McNair 2, Thompson 2.
3-pointers — Olathe South 4 (Balcom 4); Manhattan 4 (Ehie 2, Crusinberry 2).