Olathe South edges MHS girls in tourney final

By Grant Guggisberg

McPHERSON — The last time Manhattan High met Olathe South on the basketball court, the Indians struggled in a 61-40 loss at the 2012 state tournament.

The rematch at the Mid-America Classic championship game was quite a bit more competitive, though the Indians fell 51-48 to the Falcons to take second place.

Facing an undefeated team for the second night in a row, the Indians struggled early in the game, but rallied in an outstanding third quarter, knocking down five 3-pointers while turning a four-point halftime deficit into a two-point lead heading into the fourth.

After the third, Olathe South coach Steve Ingram told his team in the huddle that he thought that was about as well as Manhattan could play in a quarter.

‘I said this is the best they can play, and I don’t think they can play that well two quarters in a row,’ Ingram said. ‘I didn’t know if that was true or not, but that’s what I told them.’ While Manhattan missed some shots, it had all the momentum and seemed to be making everything, while the Falcons (12-0) struggled to respond on the other end.

Manhattan coach Scott Mall said his team reacted well to the early deficit.

‘We mentioned to them that the same thing happened against Andale,’ Mall said. ‘We got down, but we got ourselves recovered and got into it. Our defense played a lot better and then offensively, Caroline got hot, Darby was hitting baskets and Par was getting to the rim.’ The Indians went back and forth in the fourth quarter, but Olathe South was able to build a four-point lead behind the efforts of Kylee Kopatich, who finished with 31 points on 10 of 25 shooting.

With a 49-44 lead with 2:30 left on the clock, South went to a stall offense with Kopatich dribbling the ball near halfcourt. Once the Indians double-teamed her and forced a pass, Price was able to get a turnover, with Thompson converting on the other end on a reverse layup to make it 49-46.

But South went back to that offense, with Kopatich dribbling through screens and never passing the ball, draining the clock all the way down to 18 seconds, with Ballard finally fouling her, fouling out in the process. By then, it was too late to mount much of a comeback after Kopatich extended the lead by making her two free throws and eating so much of the clock.

‘We wanted to really get after them there and try to make something happen, just to give us a chance,’ Mall said. ‘Try to get a steal, a quick foul, something to give us a chance. We tried hard to get the ball out of their hands the time before, and that was a key, but we couldn’t get the ball out of Kopatich’s hands, and that really hurt.

‘So, we took the chance that something amazing might have happened right there, because that happens sometimes.’ With point guard Elayna Spilker out, Manhattan (10- 3, 4-2 Centennial) went back to the two players responsible for putting it in the championship game — Caroline Ballard and Darby Price.

Price finished with 12 points and eight boards while making the all-tournament team, and Ballard finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. When those two were swallowed up by the Falcons defense, Manhattan got solid efforts from Kristen Thompson, who finished with 10 points on 4 of 7 shooting, among others.

Mall said he was pleased with the contributions of all his players, with bench players Amara Ehie and Molly Fiser making the biggest unexpected contributions.

‘How many teams play all 12 girls in a championship game,’ Mall said. ‘And all of them, not just playing time, all of them made a contribution at some point in the game.’ For Olathe South, keeping the ball in Kopatich’s hands was the best strategy, even with Manhattan seemingly knocking down everything. Kopatich, only a sophomore, scored more than half her team’s points while serving as the primary ball handler.

‘She’s aggressive and strong, she can shoot 3s, and she can get to the basket,’ Mall said. ‘The girls adjusted well, sometimes we were in the place we wanted to be and she still found a way to squeeze between and bank it in. That’s what great players do. We knew that’s who they were going to go to, especially in the second half when it was tight.’ Mall said he thought Manhattan’s 3-point shooting may have caught Olathe South by surprise, but he’s seen that kind of accuracy in practice. Manhattan finished the night 8 of 19, with five of them coming in the third quarter.

‘Obviously,we haven’t hit them, but we have some girls that can,’ Mall said of his team’s accuracy from 3. ‘Kristen had two good games shooting in this tournament, and Molly shoots them really well in practice, but always plays point guard for us, so we told her to be a shooter tonight.’ While the loss stings, the Indians can feel good knowing how well they played all weekend without one of their best players in Spilker, especially knowing the amount of experience some of the team’s younger players gained.

‘I thought we got to see how good Par is at pushing the ball on her own,’ Mall said. ‘Other people found roles, so hopefully when Elayna comes back, now we can get them in the mix and those girls will be doing those same things while we add in Elayna’s skills.’ Mall said Spilker doesn’t have a timetable for a return, but is healing.

‘It’s day by day,’ he said. ‘I think she’s ready to start doing a little more. She’s been doing some rehab work, but nothing on the court physical. I think she’s about ready now — she’ll have to ease in and see where she’s at.’ The Indians struggled with ball handling and turnovers in Spilker’s absence early in the game, turning the ball over two times in their first three possessions. Manhattan was able to settle down as the half wore on, finishing with seven first-half turnovers.

Manhattan hung tough in the second quarter, playing part of that time without Ballard when she picked up her third foul. She only had three points at that point, but had grabbed five rebounds. The Indians had trouble matching the physicality of the bigger Falcons, finishing the half with 10 fouls to South’s four. Price finished the first half with eight points and six boards.

McPherson took third place in the tournament with a 56-46 win over Andale. Valley Center was fifth after beating Hays 5434. Wichita Southeast was seventh with a 56-45 over Dodge City.

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