WICHITA — For a half, the Manhattan High girls’ basketball team was able to hang in against a tough Wichita Heights team in Saturday’s sub-state final.
Manhattan contained the Falcons in the halfcourt, forcing Heights to instead do most of its damage in transition and off turnovers.
Then came the third quarter, with Heights rattling off a 16-0 run that turned a grinding, slow-moving game into a track meet, with the Falcons eventually ending the Indians’ season with a 55-35 win.
“We tried to talk about that before the game — they’re going to have runs, they do against everybody, especially early in games,” Manhattan coach Scott Mall said. “You have to learn from it and in the first half, we did a good job of bouncing back. Our girls just tried so hard — they maybe tried too hard — and it didn’t work out.”
By the time Manhattan regained its bearings in the fourth quarter, the score was out of hand, with Heights leading 41-21.
The Falcons press after every made basket, which didn’t work out in the first half when Heights’ shots weren’t falling. That gave Manhattan opportunities to keep it close, especially as the Falcons struggled to keep from fouling. Manhattan was in the double bonus early in the second quarter and finished the first half 7 of 9 from the charity stripe.
“I thought early we made some mistakes, but against the way they play, that’s going to happen,” Mall said. “We had some opportunities. We had some shots that didn’t go in I thought that were good looks that would have kept it even closer, and then the big basket they made before halftime.”
Heights led 20-17 with a minute to play in the first half, but got a pair of buckets and a free throw to end the quarter with a 5-0 run that helped set the tone for the third quarter.
“I thought in the first half we did well in the halfcourt,” Mall said. “They started with a lot of screening and stuff and we did about as well as we could at fighting through and getting in good positions and making them shoot some tough shots.”
Heights was 10 of 23 from the floor in the first half, but many of its baskets came in the form of layups off steals. Manhattan, despite keeping the score close, struggled against Heights’ pressure, with 10 first-half turnovers and 23 for the game. It’s no coincidence that Manhattan struggled with turnovers the most in the third quarter, throwing the ball away eight times as the Falcons took over the game.
“We made some mistakes in the first half, but once we got down a little, we tried too hard,” Mall said. “We tried to go extra fast, throw the ball extra hard, make extra plays, and that usually doesn’t work out.”
Manhattan finished the night 11 of 39 from the floor and 2 of 10 from 3. Heights, on the other hand, was 21 for 47 with a 6-of-16 mark from long range.
Elayna Spilker led the Indians with 10 points, while Kristen Thompson chipped in five. Caitlyn Claussen also had five points, all in the fourth quarter. While Manhattan used 11 players on the night, Amara Ehie played some big minutes, scoring three points in the second quarter and helping bolster the defense against a guard-heavy Heights lineup.
“We thought going in that we’d use Amara some just because of matchups,” Mall said. “It was really hard for us to play with two forwards against them, because they play four out. So Amara was a girl that could help bridge that gap. She made some really good plays, and it was quite a stage for her to be in coming from the freshmen team to this. “Then late, Caitlyn has a lot of ability. We’re looking for good things out of her. She came in and was aggressive and came in with energy both defensively and offensively.”
Heights was led by Katie Palmer’s 20 points, with Jharian Bowen adding 13. Heights’ biggest offensive adjustment in the second half was to dial up more one-on-one plays, with the rest of the team spaced out to stretch the defense.
“In the second half, it really hurt us once they started pulling the ball out and going,” Mall said. “We couldn’t get a good match up where we could contain the girl driving.”
While much of the team was emotional after the season-ending loss, Mall said he was proud of the season.
“You look at the people we graduated last year and with the injuries we had throughout the season,” Mall said. “Really all three of our seniors played through injuries, so to get to where we were, was a real accomplishment for them. It didn’t work out the way they wanted it to, but all you can ask is that they do everything they can to make themselves ready and help make the team ready, and they definitely did that.
“They gave everything they could from the end of the season last year to the beginning of the season this year to put themselves in the position to move on.”