MHS girls fall short, finish 4th at state

By Grant Guggisberg

WICHITA — Following up a win in the state basketball tournament quarterfinals with two losses and a fourth-place medal is never the ideal ending.

The weekend at Wichita’s Koch Arena didn’t turn out how the Manhattan High girls’ basketball team wanted it to, but head coach Scott Mall offered some perspective to his team following Saturday’s 56-53 loss to Olathe South in the Class 6A state consolation game.

“This is not how we wanted to end it, but this is where we wanted to end it,” Mall said. “There’s not very many teams still playing on the last day of the season. What our girls have done in preparing for this season and throughout the season is what got them in that position. They have to feel good about that.

“The rest of the teams in the state — all but three teams — wish they were in our position.”

The Indians went back and forth with Olathe South all afternoon, with 10 ties and 10 lead changes, but the Falcons led most of the fourth quarter and made just enough free throws in the end to keep Manhattan from tying it.

With less than two minutes to play, Olathe South started to run a stall offense with a 52-49 lead, but once Manhattan began to pressure, the Indians forced a turnover.

Manhattan (22-3) got the ball to Amara Ehie in front of the basket, but the shot was too strong, with the Falcons grabbing the rebound. Olathe South got two free throws from Kylee Kopatich to lead 54-49 with 1:10 to play, but Manhattan got a layup for Caroline Ballard on the next possession to cut the lead to 54-51, then forced a turnover near midcourt to get the ball back.

Savannah Thaemert knocked down a baseline jumper to cut the lead to one, and after nearly losing the ball again, the Falcons took a timeout with 26 seconds to play.

After the inbound, Manhattan fouled Kopatich again, with the junior knocking down both free throws to make it 56-53 with 18 seconds to play.

Manhattan got a decent look from behind the arc for Ballard on the next possession, but it was off the mark. The rebound went to Darby Price, who put up a shot that wouldn’t go, but the rebound bounced around and back to Ballard, who lost control of the ball trying to put up another 3-pointer. Both teams went after the loose ball, with time expiring in the process.

Manhattan was led by Ballard’s 16 points, with Price adding 11 points in her final game as an Indian. Ehie finished with nine points.

Olathe South got a game-high 17 points from Kopatich, with Bailey Rinehart scoring 15 and Jordan Morton chipping in 11.

After a tough loss in the semifinals against Maize on Friday, Mall said he was pleased with the way his team bounced back for the consolation game.

“I thought yesterday we played hard, too, we just made some mistakes,” Mall said. “Today, it’s hard for us to guard that ball-screen offense — we played against them last year and Kopatich had 31 or something on us, because we just couldn’t stop that. And we had trouble today, but the girls kept working on her, we kept doing different things and we got great effort from them to slow that down a little bit.”

Mall said the game got away from the Indians a bit in the third quarter, when Olathe South took its biggest lead of the game with a 10-0 run. Manhattan responded with a 6-0 run to tie the game up at 33-33.

“That stretch there in the third quarter, all of the sudden we got a little shaky on offense and didn’t get back and get set on defense, and it kind of overwhelmed us a little in a big hurry,” Mall said. “I should have done something else to get it stopped right there and we just weren’t able to. But then we battled back all of the sudden, and the effort the girls gave — throughout the game, but especially from then on — was just super.”

At the end of the day, Saturday’s loss was disappointing for the team, but proved to be an evenly-matched and entertaining game between state-ranked teams.

“Amara and Par, late in the game, did a great job of attacking the basket and making something happen,” Mall said. “We got a little better movement off the ball to give us some great looks. We didn’t shoot it as great as we would have liked to on some of those, but we gave ourselves a chance.”

The 2013-14 Indians, featuring seniors Erika Hairgrove, McNair and Price, cap the year with the most wins in school history, a tie for the fewest losses, a school-record 20-game win streak and just the third time to place at the state tournament in program history.

“I know it feels a little bad today, but the things they have accomplished are really something,” Mall said. “It’s hard to replace those three seniors with everything they’ve done, but we’ll have to look ahead and try to do that. It’ll be different, but it’ll still be good.”

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