SALINA — Mulvane used a pair of 3-pointers late in the first half to crawl back in the game and get within five points of top-seed Wamego before halftime on Wednesday night.
But there’s a reason the Red Raiders are defending state champions.
Showing no panic, the Wamego girls’ basketball team unloaded for 10 straight points to regain control of the game and cruise to an easy 51-40 first-round victory at the Class 4A Division I state tournament at the Bicentennial Center — the Red Raiders’ 38th straight win.
“It’s still the state tournament and even though we were here last year, it’s still the state tournament and there were some nerves I think,” Red Raiders coach Jim Page said. “But I was happy for the win. You have to win this first one to continue on.”
The Red Raiders (23-0) will play No. 4-seed Kansas City-Piper (20-3) on Friday at 6:30 p.m. — which can be seen at http://www.themercury.com.
Wamego scored the first nine points of the game — five coming from Kaylee Page — and eventually built a 13-2 lead with 2:32 to go in the first quarter. The Red Raiders extended the lead to 19-7 by the end of the quarter, capped by a 3-pointer from Lanie Page, who finished with a game-high 27 points and seven rebounds.
Looking like Wamego would run away with the game, No. 8-seed Mulvane answered in the second quarter with a 10-3 inside the final three minutes of the half to cut into the deficit to 27-22, powered by 3s from Ashley Wilson and Aubree Burkhart, who had a team-high 13 points.
“Some of those miscues were because Mulvane played so hard and made things hard on us there,” Coach Page said. “They played really hard tonight. It really was a good first-round matchup for us.”
But it wasn’t much of a contest in the second half. Wamego used a 13-3 run to open the third quarter and take a 42-25 lead with less than three minutes to play in the period, essentially ending any threat from Mulvane (15-8). The Red Raiders shot nearly 53 percent from the field in the second half, while holding the Wildcats to just 24 percent shooting.
“I like that about us — we’ve been able to do that a lot,” Coach Page said. “Our kids play defense really hard, but to be able to come out and be efficient and that solid on the offensive end to start the third quarter was really good for us.
“We’ve been able to do that the last four, five or six games — put runs together when we’ve needed it. That bothers me that we aren’t 100 percent all the time, but when we need it, we tighten up and get the buckets.”
Wamego wasn’t especially crisp Wednesday night, using more of a grind-it-out approach to come away with the win, making Lanie Page’s big game all the more important. The junior was 10 of 15 from the field with a pair of 3s, while making 5 of 7 from the free-throw line.
“We took care of business,” Coach Page said. “Lanie had a very good game and some of the other kids were able to work their way in and out — it was good that we got that out of Lanie, so some of those other mistakes didn’t jump out at us.”
Kaylee Page finished with a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds. Allison Seufert added five points and three rebounds.