With three seniors walking across the gym, arm-in-arm with their parents, the Manhattan Indians had the chance to celebrate.
Just minutes before, they eased past last-place Highland Park 65-33 in the team’s home finale, 65-33, while getting the chance to play most of their bench for extended minutes.
Manhattan coach Scott Mall is happy for his players, especially his seniors, but he knows if his team is going to celebrate a league title or a top seed at sub-state, it needs to bring its “A-game” next week. Manhattan will make a trip to Hayden and Seaman to cap the regular season, both of which are in a three-way tie atop the Centennial League standings with 9-2 league records after Friday night’s games.
“I think we’re ready for it,” Mall said. “I told the girls, ‘this is what we’ve been building for.’ Next week is like our pre-sub-state week. These are important games, against good teams and there’s something on the line for both league honors and sub-state seeding. So this is a good step for us.
“We’ve been preparing for this and now we’re ready to step up and play our best basketball.”
Manhattan started all three of its seniors on senior night, including Elayna Spilker, who hadn’t taken to the hardwood for the Indians in a month. Joining her were Kristen Thompson and Katie Proctor, who have battled their share of injuries in the past while taking on unfamiliar roles this year.
“They’re both mild-mannered girls, so for them to step up and assume leadership roles like they have is really something,” Mall said. “Because they’ve almost had to step out of character to be vocal leaders in practice, and they’ve done it. Both of them have dealt with injuries, Katie had knee surgery last summer which really put her behind, but she kept at it, working hard in practice. And Kristen over the last two-plus years has had more injuries - painful injuries - and she keeps fighting and gives us a presence on the floor that helps us win.”
The game itself was mostly a one-sided affair, with Manhattan staking a big halftime lead and watching a group of mostly JV players add to it in the final two quarters.
Manhattan had perhaps its most balanced scoring effort of the year, with no player in double figures and 13 girls scoring at least a point. Mall was pleased his team got the chance to rest its regulars while giving the younger players a chance to see some varsity time.
“I think every one of our girls had a chance to score,” Mall said. “We missed some late, but our girls off the bench got a lot of chances. It’s nice they all got to play. It was hard to get them all in there because we had 16 girls suited up.”
The Indians won the battle on the boards 45-22, which was tough to do with the Scots throwing up shots without much notice. Mall said limiting the Scots to just one shot was key for his team.
“It makes it harder to rebound, because you’re not ready to rebound and all of the sudden there’s a shot, and with the shots they take, you don’t know whether the rebound will go long or if it’ll barely touch the rim and come down short,” he said. “So you have to really be alert and want the ball. I thought it took us a while to get the hang of it, but then we did a pretty good job of it.”
Manhattan (14-4, 8-3 Centennial) faced little resistance in building a double-digit lead, despite going to the bench in the first quarter. Manhattan led 14-3 after the first five minutes before Highland Park hit a trio of 3-pointers to make it 20-11. But the Indians outscored the Scots 18-2 in the second quarter to get to the locker room with a 36-13 halftime lead.
The Indians led 50-20 after three quarters before handing the game to a complete squad of JV players.
Highland Park (3-15, 1-10) never got much of an offense going, knocking down the occasional off-balance jumper while getting 13 points from Destini Gillian, who finished the night 4 of 6 from beyond the arc, despite several bank shots.
The Indians had just eight turnovers on the night as they welcomed back Spilker, who was scheduled just to make a token appearance on senior night but felt good enough to play for several short stretches, scoring seven points on 3 of 6 shooting. Mall is hoping to have Spilker next week for a pair of tougher games, but said her status remains a game-time decision.
With no more easy games left on the regular-season schedule, Mall hopes his team can buckle down and win a pair of tough games to claim the top seed at sub-state. With Wichita Heights falling on Friday, Manhattan controls its own destiny the rest of the way, though Washburn Rural and Heights are both just one game back.
“In our sub-state, there’s not any really weak team, but the No. 8 team is probably going to be the weakest, so that’s who you want to play,” Mall said. “If you could get the one-seed and put Washburn Rural and Wichita Heights in the other bracket, there’s still tough teams to beat, but at least they aren’t teams that typically go on.
“But I like our chances no matter where we end up.”
Win two games next week, and Manhattan’s seniors can celebrate more than just the final home game of the season. Mall said he’s proud of his team even for getting this far.
“These seniors definitely earned it,” he said. “They’ve been great leaders this year. We wouldn’t have gotten where we are if they hadn’t stepped up right from the beginning.”