SALINA — Both Wamego head coach Jim Page and daughter, senior Kaylee Page tried hard to remain stoic in the moments after they’d watched the No. 1-seed Red Raiders’ title hopes dashed in a 57-41 loss to No. 2 Bishop Miege in Saturday afternoon’s Class 4A-Division-I title game at the Bicentennial Center.
But as the final minutes waned, the emotions were evident on the tear-stained cheeks that dotted the Wamego sideline.
The loss sank dreams of a repeat championship, and snapped a 39-game winning streak for the Red Raiders, but it was those among other accomplishments that the coach brought up afterward.
“I said this last year,” he said. “That it might be a once in a lifetime thing. I don’t think Wamego had gone to state in 24 years or so. Here we are going back-to-back years taking first and second ...There are a lot of good teams that would like to be in our place”
“In a week or so, that sting will be gone, and the second place trophy, those memories will all be there.”
The Stags (22-3) used depth and athleticism to rattle the defending 4A state champion Red Raiders from the outset.
With the Bishop Miege man-to-man defense constantly sagging down in the paint to double Kaylee and Lanie Page whenever they roamed there, the Stags forced Wamego (24-1) into an uncharacteristic 34-percent field-goal shooting day. Neither team shot above 39 percent for the game, but it was the Stags’ full court press that made the biggest difference in the scorebook.
Wamego turned it over 15 times to the Stags’ three, and Bishop Miege ran off a 17-2 advantage in points off turnovers. The lost possessions held the Red Raiders to just 38 field goals attempted.
“They’re such good athletes,” Jim Page said. “Some teams might press or you can get away with a few lazy passes. Against that team you couldn’t make a lazy pass or you paid for it.”
Sophomore Shelbe Piggie and senior Lexie Villegas each had a game-high 15 points for the Stags, while Kaylee Page finished with a double-double — 14 points and 10 rebounds — to pace Wamego in the loss.
The Stags never trailed after taking a 6-4 lead on a corner jumper from sophomore Tristen McFeders. That was part of a 16-2 run capped by a 3-pointer from Piggie that put the Stags up 19-6 with 1:20 left in the first quarter.
A free throw from Wamego junior Allison Seufert stopped the bleeding at 19-7 just before the quarter ended. Neither Page sister had managed to score a point.
With the Page sisters bottled up, sophomore Caitlyn Claussen scored 10 first-half points to keep the Red Raiders in it. She hit a jumper from the right wing to pull within 24-13 with 6:25 before halftime.
“She’s really grown up, at the beginning of the year she was still getting used to it,” Kaylee Page said. “This whole tournament she’s stepped up. She’s so strong, so aggressive and she just gives everything she has.”
Miege answered with a 3-pointer, but Lanie Page found Seufert for an inside hoop before finally getting on the board herself, hitting two free throws. On the ensuing Red Raider possession, Maddie Vontz was fouled hard on a drive, going 1 of 2 from the line to pull Wamego within single digits at 27-18 with 2:54 left before halftime.
Both teams went cold for the remainder of the period before Kaylee Page scored her first points on a put back to make it 29-20 in the final seconds before halftime.
After Kaylee Page answered a Stag bucket with one of her own to make it 31-22 with 7:04 left in the third, the Bishop Miege press effectively put the game away.
Villegas drove and scored after an offensive rebound on the ensuing possession, and then two straight Wamego turnovers against the press ended in Miege scores, giving the Stags a 38-22 lead with 6:06 to play in the third.
“Defensively we were doing what we wanted to do, and all we had to do was get off to a good start in the second half,” Bishop Miege coach Terry English said. “After that we didn’t think they could catch us.”
The Stags’ big lead of the game came on a layup by Piggie that put them up 18 one minute later. After a Kaylee Page score, Bishop Miege used quick ball movement and a key offensive rebound to stall out most of the final 3:18 of the third quarter, taking a 46-29 lead into the fourth.
Lanie Page hit a 3-pointer to cut it to 46-34 with 6:00 left in the game, but Wamego would never get the Stag lead under 12.
Kaylee Page scored the final two points of her illustrious Wamego career on two free throws to make it 50-37 with 4:23 left as Wamego saw its dreams of a title defense fade away in the 16 point loss.
“I just want to leave a legacy being part of the teams that showed that Wamego can be good,” Kaylee Page said. “We can win a lot of games, and that they continue next year and after that. I want to come back next year and watch these girls play for another state championship.”