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Indians roll into semis

By Grant Guggisberg

WICHITA — It’s safe to say no one on the Manhattan High girls’ basketball team remembers the last time the Indians made it this far at state.

None of them were born.

It was 23 years ago, 1991 to be exact, when the Indians last won at the Class 6A state tournament. Where 22 teams before them failed, this year’s team succeeded, defeating Shawnee Mission West 55-39 in Wednesday’s quarterfinals inside Wichita’s Koch Arena to advance and play Maize on Friday at 3 p.m.

Maize (19-4) defeated Blue Valley North (18-5) 55-45 on Wednesday to advance.

Senior post Darby Price said Manhattan head coach Scott Mall reminded the team of the magnitude of this accomplishment immediately following the victory.

“He said this was the first time in 23 years we’ve made it to the second round,” Price said. “And the last time we were here, we won that game and got to the championship game, so we were pumped up. We’re ready.”

With a guaranteed place no worse than fourth, the Indians have their sights set on a state title after pulling away from a pesky Shawnee Mission West team that boasted plenty of size in the paint with 6-foot-2 Marleah Campbell and 6-1 Mackenzie Loe.

But Manhattan battled hard on the boards, winning the rebounding battle 37-16 and grabbing a 17-3 advantage on the offensive glass that ultimately was the difference in the game.

“Our girls just worked so hard on the boards,” Mall said. “We made it a point of emphasis in practice this week, because we knew those two big girls get a lot of offensive rebounds. We were going to box out tough and box out tall and make them go over us.”

Price said facing a team with bigger girls just inspires Manhattan’s posts to play even harder.

“I think it pumps us up more,” Price said. “It’s like, ‘they’re taller than us? Let’s embarrass them and go get the rebounds.’ We were just ready for them.”

While the teams both had shooting percentages in the 30s, Manhattan put up 17 more shots and had numerous extra chances to score.

As the game wore on, Manhattan was able to wear out the Vikings and the extra rebounds turned into extra baskets, turning a seven-point halftime lead into a comfortable win.

“In the second half, we were a lot more relaxed on offense, we moved the ball and got better looks,” Mall said. “And defensively, we kept playing hard and rebounding. We outrebounded them by a ton against a team with two really big girls. That was key.”

The Indians led 27-20 at halftime and had their leads up to double digits for a large portion of the second half, capitalizing on 17 West turnovers, despite throwing the ball away 13 times.

The game turned into a bit of a free-throw contest late in the third quarter and into the fourth, as both teams continued to foul. But the Indians were 16 of 19, while West finished 17 of 25 from the charity stripe.

In the halfcourt, Manhattan didn’t let West’s posts get too comfortable, getting help from the guards and using pressure to force tough shots.

“We had good defense, tipping the ball away, and our guards were able to pick it up and rebound,” Price said. “We boxed them out and kept them off the boards.”

Manhattan (22-1) was led by Caroline Ballard’s 14 points, while Price had 10. Amara Ehie and Molly Fiser each added eight points.

Shawnee Mission West (13-10) got 12 points from Campbell.

Two seasons ago, Manhattan was one and done at state, drawing a tough matchup with Olathe South and losing in the quarterfinals.

The game got away from the Vikings late in the second quarter, when the Indians scored the final five points of the period, including a Fiser 3-pointer with less than a minute to play, to lead by seven at the break.

“We had too many throw-aways early in the game,” Mall said. “I thought the little spurt - hitting the basket right before halftime really helped.”

West got a 3-pointer to start the third quarter, but then went nearly four minutes without a basket while Manhattan built up a double-digit lead.

Leading 44-33 at the start of the fourth quarter, Manhattan took the air out of the ball a bit, happy to use clock on long possessions to shorten the game.

Early on, both teams struggled with turnovers, combining for four before either team attempted a shot. Once the Indians settled down, they went back and forth with West, taking an 11-7 first-quarter lead only to see the Vikings take a 12-11 lead with two minutes to play in the period. Manhattan got a basket from Ballard and two free throws from Kylie James to lead 15-12 heading into the second quarter.

With another tough game on the docket for Friday, Mall said the team just has to keep doing what got it here.

“We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” he said. “Every big game we’ve had has been like this, where we just scrapped, and fought and played hard and played smart on defense.”

For Price, winning the first game was an important step toward the ultimate goal.

“The new goal is to win state,” she said. “That’s our goal, win this next game and the game after that.”

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