Kia Wilson had never been that nervous in a Manhattan girls basketball uniform.
Her Indians (23-1) were up by just one point against Olathe South (19-5) with a trip to the state title game on the line.
But the sophomore forward hit a free throw, as did senior point guard Gigi McAtee, to seal the 47-44 win and send Manhattan to its first title game since 1991.
“I couldn’t be happier for both the whole team and our seniors,” Wilson said. “They’ve been waiting for this. We’ve set goals all year. It’s just incredible that it’s finally all here.”
The 1991 trip also marked head coach Scott Mall’s first season with the program as an unpaid assistant.
The Indians led by as many as 11 points during the contest and never trailed after the first quarter, but Mall said the lead never felt comfortable.
“It seemed like every time we would come down, make a couple mistakes, and boy, they have such a good team, they would capitalize on them right away,” he said. “They would go from nine to five or nine to four just like that. Nothing ever felt safe.”
The teams grappled throughout the first eight minutes, with the lead changing hands three times. The Indians recorded four 3-pointers, two each from Kennedy Wilson and Chrissy Carr, to pull ahead. Wilson finished with eight points, while Kia, her sister, led all scorers with 13. Carr recorded 12.
“Playing other teams, we have to play guards and stuff, which is harder, but we knew these are our positions, so we can play them,” Kia Wilson said.
Kaitlynn Butaud and DejaNae Roebuck provided a spark for the Falcons, finishing with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
“We didn’t guard Butaud as well as we would like to,” Mall said. “I thought a real key for us was the boards. They ended up with seven offensive rebounds. Last time we played them, Roebuck got seven offensive rebounds by herself.”
Manhattan extended its lead to nine before a 6-0 Olathe South run made it a three-point game midway through the quarter.
McAtee broke a two and a half-minute scoring drought with a layup, which sparked the Indians’ own six-point run before Caroline Harshbarger made it a seven-point game going into the break. After giving up 10 points on turnovers, Manhattan didn’t allow any in the second quarter.
The Indians lead grows to 11 early in the third quarter with back-to-back buckets from Kennedy and Kia Wilson before Butaud puts the Falcons on the board with just under seven minutes left. The teams traded buckets throughout the quarter, but Olathe South never got within four points.
Until the fourth quarter.
The Falcons make it a two-point game with a 7-0 run in the first 90 seconds of the final period.
The Indians got almost all of it back, but Megan Worthington’s bucket with four minutes and 47 seconds left ended up being Manhattan’s last field goal.
Olathe South went on a 6-0 run to cut its deficit to one. An offensive foul against Haleigh Harper gave the Falcons the ball back in the final seconds, but the shot missed the mark, and McAtee was fouled, putting her on the line. Seconds later, Wilson was fouled while pulling down a rebound. Olathe South had the ball back to close out the game, but the Butaud 3-point attempt clanged off the front of the rim.
Mall and Wilson both thought defense and teamwork helped Manhattan.
“That’s been kind of our mantra all season long that it’s a team effort,” Mall said. “We’ve had a lot of games with three or four people in double figures, and a lot of times, at least one of those is a girl off the bench.”
The win also provided some redemption for Manhattan, as Olathe South handed the Indians their only loss of the season, 50-38, in the championship game of the McPherson Invitational Tournament on Jan. 28.
“Last time we played them, we were a little passive,” Mall said. “We hadn’t played anybody that was big and strong like this, and they kind of took it to us a little inside. But I thought our big girls did a lot better job of getting in position this time.”
The Indians plan to relax and regroup as they prepare to face the winner of Derby (19-4) and Wichita West (15-4) at 4 p.m. on Saturday.