TOPEKA — Two years ago, the Manhattan High girls’ basketball team clinched a share of the Centennial League title, only to have it go down to the wire.
The Indians clinched at least a share of their second league title in three years on Tuesday, beating second-place Hayden 36-28 on the road. Washburn Rural topped second-place Seaman 39-29 to drop both the Wildcats and Vikings to three games behind the Indians.
The Indians could become the outright champions with another win in the final three games of the season.
MHS coach Scott Mall said they are focused on taking it one game at a time, rather than dwelling on the title.
“It’s hard to think about that, we just think about the next game,” he said. “We have Shawnee Heights Friday and we were fortunate to beat them last time, so it’s all about trying to get better and trying to win the next game.”
It was a closer game than the final score indicated though, as the Wildcats made a late run to pull within four points with 1:03 to play. Manhattan, which had made 6-of-18 free throws in the fourth quarter last Friday to barely survive a game with Seaman, made 4-of-6 to close the game out.
Hayden made the run thanks to a handful of MHS turnovers, and Mall said it was a result of his team struggling to slow down the pace.
“We just had a little trouble making that adjustment from being aggressive going to the basket to being careful and taking what they gave us and not giving them a chance by turning the ball over,” he said.
Leading 28-22 going into the final period, a play out of a timeout midway through the quarter gave the Indians a 32-24 lead off an Onyeka Ehie basket.
Sarah Pimentel and Mackenzie Cox scored four straight points for the Wildcats to cut the lead to 32-28.
Manhattan (15-2, 10-0) had led 20-12 at the start of the second half, but got into a battle with Hayden’s Nicole Federico, who scored eight points in the third to bring the team as close as six points.
The Indians had no answer for Federico in the first quarter, as the 5-foot-11 senior muscled her way into the paint where she scored six of her eight points, scoring the other two at the free throw line. Federico finished with a game-high 16 points.
The senior brought the Wildcats (11-6, 7-3) back from a 9-6 deficit with two minutes left in the period to lead 10-9 after one quarter.
Mall said Federico made things hard on his team at times, but he thought his team did a good job at defending her, especially Darby Price.
“Federico, I thought, really hurt us in the first half, and a couple times I thought we played good defense on her, she just took the ball away even though we were there, and finished some plays off,” he said. “She’s tough for us to guard because she is so strong down there.”
Things dried up for Hayden in the second quarter though, as turnovers and missed shots led to the Wildcats scoring just two points from the floor, and the Indians outscoring them 11-2 for the period.
Sarah Pimental made the opening bucket for Hayden, but then the Indians got inside baskets from Par McNair, Price and Mari Jo Massanet to go up 15-12. Ehie made a 3-pointer and knocked down a shot with 32 seconds left to push the lead to 20-12.
Massanet scored 10 points for the Indians in her return to the lineup after suffering a knee injury last Friday. Ehie led the way for the Indians with 13 points and two 3-pointers.
MHS 36, HAYDEN 28
Manhattan 9 11 8 8 — 36
Hayden 10 2 10 6 — 28
MANHATTAN (36) — Ehie 13, Massanet 10, Price 8, McNair 3, Pitchford 2.
HAYDEN (28) — Federico 16, Pimentel 8, Lawlor 2, Cox 2.
3-pointers — Manhattan 2 (Ehie).