Indians beat Blue Jays behind defense

By Grant Guggisberg

JUNCTION CITY — Locked in a defensive struggle all night long, the Manhattan High girls’ basketball team needed a lift on offense.

They got it from Caroline Ballard.

Saddled with foul trouble in the first half, the sophomore got things going in the third quarter, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers as the Indians built a 13-point lead and never looked back against rival Junction City, winning 36-24.

Ballard, who ended the night with 13 points and five rebounds, said going to the bench in the first half took her out of rhythm.

“It kind of messed me up at first, but I tried to just play smarter defense and play better offense too,” she said. “I needed to play more outside, since I usually try to drive more. But it was easier to step out in this game.”

Manhattan (13-4, 7-3 Centennial) outscored Junction City 16-7 in the third quarter in what otherwise was a tightly contested matchup. Ballard said Manhattan coach Scott Mall’s plan in the second half was to be more aggressive offensively.

“He said we need to look for better passing options,” Ballard said. “We need to push the ball more and play solid defense. We had to make a lot of adjustments, to help us out. We couldn’t take it straight in - we needed to do other stuff. We had to try and get fouls too.

“I think we did.”

The Indians had to play without Ballard for much of the first half, with the sophomore picking up her second foul at the 6:03 mark of the first quarter. That meant more minutes for Stephanie Shanower and Katie Proctor early, while leaving the bulk of the scoring load on the shoulders of Darby Price, who scored 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

“She did a good job of getting to the ball,” Mall said of Price, who finished the night 4 of 16 from the floor. “She missed some shots that she’s normally going to hit. They just didn’t get in the basket. But she kept a lot of offensive rebounds alive and gave herself a chance in there.”

After trailing 7-2 at the five-minute mark of the opening quarter, the Indians responded - defensively anyway - allowing just one more basket to the Blue Jays before halftime, while taking a 13-9 lead. Junction City did not score in the second quarter.

“It was really a struggle,” Mall said. “The game was really physical — they were so patient on offense throughout the game, which really kept the score down, especially in the first half.”

Junction City (5-12, 3-7) wasn’t able to get much going on offense, not utilizing its size to the fullest, while allowing Manhattan to double them up on the offense boards, 14-7. That led to multiple second-chance opportunities for the Indians the Blue Jays simply didn’t get.

“I thought rebounding was a key, because in the first half especially, they went to the boards so strong,” Mall said. “They’re so big, they were up over us a lot of the time, so we had to get after it in the second half to limit them to one shot.”

Once Manhattan snapped out of its offensive funk in the third quarter, the Indians were able to keep the Blue Jays at arm’s length by making just enough free throws down the stretch. The Indians made 7 of 14 in the final quarter to keep Junction City from rallying, while not fouling enough to put their opponents on the line. The Blue Jays never got closer than seven in the final quarter.

Junction City’s Kori Kamm was the Blue Jays’ leading scorer with 10 points and seven rebounds. She also finished 2 of 4 from the free-throw line, with no other Blue Jay attempting a shot from the charity stripe. Mall said he would like to see his girls be more consistent at the line, but was pleased they did enough to win.

“Caroline’s been a good shooter, and Par too,” Mall said. “At least they made 1 out of 2 almost all the time — that was important.”

Manhattan finished the night 10 of 44 from the floor, but got enough second chances to make up for the poor shooting night. Part of the blame for Manhattan’s shooting woes was the defensive presence of Junction City’s Peyton Pender, who had several blocks and made Price work for everything she got.

But Pender, normally one of Junction City’s top scorers, finished with just four points and five rebounds, hitting 2 of 12 shots. Mall said Manhattan was able to help inside against the Blue Jays’ taller forwards.

“They really wanted to get the ball into their big girls, and they got it in there early, then our guards started to help,” Mall said. “And Darby got some steals from helping. That really made a big difference in that second quarter.”

Many of those steals came in the third quarter, as Junction City turned the ball over eight times in the period, while Manhattan went on a 14-3 run over the last six minutes.

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