Indians to host T-Birds tonight

By Grant Guggisberg

Fresh off a sweep of Topeka West on Tuesday, the Manhattan High basketball teams return home tonight to host the Shawnee Heights Thunderbirds in a rematch from December.

On the boys’ side, revenge is a factor after Manhattan (8-7, 4-4 Centennial) blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead on the road before losing 64-58 in overtime against the T-Birds early in the season. Shawnee Heights got a combined 41 points from Jovan Barksdale and Tony Barksdale Jr., while Payton Stephens and Jacob Holloway led the way for the Indians with 18 and 17 points, respectively.

Coach Tim Brooks expects his team to play motivated in the rematch.

“They’ve got great guard play with (Braeson) Sester and the Barksdales, and even (Tevin) Downing, he’s a guard as well,” Brooks said. “We thought we let one slip away there, so there shouldn’t be any lack of motivation to go out and play hard at home.”

Containing the Barksdales, as well as their own mistakes, is the key for the Indians. Manhattan had an 18-6 run in the third quarter of the first game as the T-Birds settled for contested shots and enabled the Indians to get out in transition. Against the T-Birds full-court press and zone defense, Manhattan lost the turnover battle 22-9.

Brooks said winning that game could have changed the way the season has unfolded, as the race for high seeds at sub-state comes into focus.

“We blew a 10-point lead there in the fourth quarter, so we let one slip away,” he said. “And those are big, because you look back — we would be another game in the win column in conference, and probably improve our seed at sub-state.”

If the season ended today, Manhattan would earn the No. 4 seed at sub-state, opening with fifth-seeded Wichita Heights (7-8) with the winner advancing to play top-seeded Derby (13-3). Manhattan lost to Derby in the season opener on Nov. 30, 78-67. Wichita East and Washburn Rural would tie for the second and third seeds if the season ended today, each with a 9-6 record.

For the girls’ team, holding serve at home against a team they beat 51-35 in December is important with sub-state rapidly approaching. The Indians travel to Junction City, Hayden and Seaman with a home game against Highland Park to close out their season as they fight for the top seed at sub-state. Of the eight teams at the Junction City regional, only four have winning records, including Manhattan (12-3, 6-2), Wichita Heights (12-3), Washburn Rural (10-5, 6-2) and Topeka High (8-7, 4-4).

Earning the top seed and avoiding a tough matchup with Washburn Rural for a state tournament berth is important, and it starts with the Shawnee Heights game.

“It will be a big game,” Manhattan coach Scott Mall said. “It’s a home game, and we only have a couple left.”

In the first matchup, Manhattan got a balanced scoring effort from Elayna Spilker, Caroline Ballard and Darby Price. Spilker has missed the last three weeks with an injury, but the other two have stepped up in her absence. If Spilker is still out against the T-Birds, they’ll need to continue to dominate inside.

Mall said the T-Birds are a tough matchup because they have so many good shooters, and oftentimes play only one true post player and four guards, making it tough defensively for his posts. Shawnee Heights enters tonight’s game on a six-game losing streak, though after losing to Hayden by 31 last week, they went down to the wire against Seaman (13-2, 6-2) and Rural in the last two games, losing by a combined seven points.

“They’re so dangerous when they’re hitting shots, boy they’re really tough,” he said. “They struggled on Tuesday (against Hayden) and couldn’t make a shot, then they play Friday against Seaman, who’s really good, and it’s a tight game. They have a lot of people who can shoot.”

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