MCPHERSON — After two blowout wins in the Mid-America Classic this week, the Manhattan High girls’ basketball team finally got a tough game Saturday night.
In what ended up being a true road game in the championship game of the 19th annual Mid-America Classic, the Indians were tested all night by the McPherson Bullpups, but came out on top in the end, winning 44-37.
“It’s a huge step for us,” Manhattan head coach Scott Mall said of the tournament win. “Our girls know the history of this tournament, and they know what kind of teams play in this. We played our best game last year and almost won it against an excellent team. But to win it really says something about where we’re at as a program.”
In a back-and-forth game that saw seven lead changes, the Indians got a pair of big 3s from Caroline Ballard to start the fourth quarter and take momentum as well as a 36-34 lead.
“That was huge, we had just taken the lead and gave up a 3 to them and then she came down and hit that first one,” Mall said. “They seemed a little surprised, but I wasn’t. She’s been that way late in games and she shot them really well in the 3-point contest this morning, but those were huge shots.
“They laid off of her and she stuck it in the hole.”
Darby Price also came up big for the Indians late in the game, scoring a basket to stake Manhattan to a four-point lead before knocking down four key free throws down the stretch to finish 9 of 10 from the charity stripe, on a night when the rest of the team was just 5 of 14.
“Darby, after the first three or four games this year, she’s really done that for us,” Mall said of Price’s shooting late in games. “Sometimes the girls that do well in the free-throw shooting contest struggle. Well, Darby stepped up and we were really trying to get her the ball. We have a lot of confidence in her.”
After trailing most of the first half, the Indians battled back to take a one-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, and stayed ahead by a basket most of the final period.
Once McPherson began to foul with less than a minute to play, trailing 40-37, Savannah Roberts went to the line for a one-and-one, but missed the attempt. The rebound landed between two McPherson players and out of bounds back to Manhattan. Price was fouled on the ensuing inbound play, with the senior knocking down both shots.
Price led Manhattan (12-1, 7-0 Centennial) with 13 points, with Ballard chipping in 11. Both were named to the all-tournament team.
McPherson (8-5) was led by shooting guard Abby Pederson, who scored 20 points, including four 3-pointers. Late in the game, McPherson drew up plays to get Pederson open, with her last make at the 2:28 mark cutting the Manhattan lead to just one at 38-37.
“She’s tough because she can drive with either hand and finish,” Mall said of Pederson. “She’s got a quick, excellent outside shot. We talked about the play she scored early on and scored late on, we didn’t do a good job of defending it.
“We had to work hard, but I thought Savannah Roberts did an excellent job, then Par (McNair) switched out on her and Amara (Ehie), too. They work to get her open, so you have to work through a lot of tough screens.”
Early on, Manhattan played solid but gave up back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers to the Bullpups, with Pederson knocking down two in a row before Hannah Willems hit one. The sequence turned a 6-3 Indian lead into a 12-6 deficit in the span of a minute.
But Manhattan battled back, outscoring McPherson by five in the second quarter to tie the game and ultimately trail at the half by just two.
With tournament week over, Manhattan rests until Friday, when they travel to Topeka High.
Roberts wins FT-shooting contest
Earlier in the day, Roberts knocked down 30 of 35 free throws and won a shootout against Gardner-Edgerton’s Cassidy Androff to win the tournament’s free-throw shooting contest. Price took third, making 29 of 35 attempts.
In the 3-point contest, Molly Fiser took third, with Ballard finishing in second place. McPherson’s Pederson won the contest.
Ballard and Price were each named to the all-tournament team, along with Pederson and Andale’s Brittany Meyer and Olathe East’s Regan Stone.
MHS defeats SM South in semis
A day after routing Hays in the opening round of the Mid-America Classic, the Manhattan beat Shawnee Mission South 66-35 in the tournament’s semifinals.
The Indians led 39-16 at halftime and 52-26 heading into the fourth quarter in its second consecutive blowout win.
Price once again led the Indians, scoring 18 points, with Roberts adding 12.
The Indians finished the night shooting 25 of 47 (53 percent) from the floor, while holding SM South to 12-of-46 (26 percent).