Taking a long season one game at a time is one of the most popular sports clichés of all time, but more often than not, it’s difficult to do.
With a regular-season finale against Seaman — the other undefeated team in Centennial League play — looming in the distance for the last two weeks, Tuesday’s game against Hayden, a 49-37 win, was the final obstacle for the Manhattan High girls’ basketball team in setting up a winner-take-all matchup for the league title on Friday night.
But lack of focus was not an issue for the Indians early in the game after the team took a 20-point lead to halftime and had an answer for each of Hayden’s multiple rally attempts in the second half.
The Wildcats got as close as seven points in the fourth quarter that was marked with numerous Manhattan turnovers, but couldn’t come up with enough baskets as the Indians regained their composure enough to re-extend the lead to double digits in the final minute.
“In the second half, you’re up by 20 at half in a game you expected to be tight,” Manhattan head coach Scott Mall said. “There’s just that very little bit of sitting back, where all of a sudden we weren’t quite as sharp passing the ball and we threw a lot of balls right at their hands. And that kind of snowballs, and we got a little antsy about it.”
Darby Price led the Indians with 14 points, while Caroline Ballard finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Hayden (15-4, 8-4 Centennial) was led by Jordan Lenherr’s 16 points.
Manhattan (18-1, 12-0) finished the night with 24 turnovers, 14 of which came in the second half when Hayden was rallying. Mall said the first half went so well because Hayden sets up its press off made baskets, which they had only three of in the opening two quarters.
“That was huge for us, because they make a lot of stuff happen on that,” he said. “Our defense and rebounding was so good. I don’t care how you get there, anytime you beat a team that good at all, but especially sweep them and this time beat them by more than 10 points, I don’t care how you got there, that’s a really good win.”
The Indians couldn’t have played much better in the first half, which set the tone for the game and made it much more difficult for the Wildcats to get back into the game.
While Manhattan played well offensively and got good shots, it was the Indians’ defense that set the tone. Hayden finished the first half 3 of 18 from the field and trailing 28-8.
After 15 first-half turnovers against the Wildcats in the first game between the two teams, Manhattan cut the number of giveaways to 10, instead breaking through Hayden’s traps for layups or wide-open jump shots.
“That first half we played so well,” Mall said. “On defense, we just did a good job. The girls worked hard and played smart and did a good job of defending what they were doing. Offensively, we really wanted to handle that full-court press and I thought we did a good job of that.”
After taking a 13-2 lead in the first quarter, Manhattan took all the momentum to halftime with a bucket by Darby Price and a 3-pointer at the buzzer that was nothing but net for Par McNair. The Indians also got six points off the bench from reserve forward Erika Hairgrove.
“Erika did a great job,” Mall said. “Defensively, she moved her feet really well, because she was guarding the Schmidt girl, who’s their leading scorer, and did a super job on her. And offensively, she did a good job of stepping to the right place at the right time where the girls could get her the ball and she had open looks.”
Hayden started the third quarter on a 7-0 run to get some momentum back before cutting the lead to single digits in the fourth quarter.
Manhattan finished the night 18 of 37 (48 percent) from the field, while Hayden was 16 or 46 (35 percent).
Also on Tuesday night, Seaman beat Washburn Rural 46-28 to set up Friday’s de facto league championship game among undefeated league teams in Manhattan starting at 6 p.m.