As Manhattan High’s best post player, Darby Price isn’t always outsized in the lane.
But the senior often gives up at least a couple inches to the girl defending her, making her job as a top scorer and rebounder that much tougher.
Friday night against Topeka High, Price held her own and then some, scoring 17 points and muscling her way to offensive rebounds and easy putbacks while her team gutted out a 51-36 win against the Trojans that was much closer than the final score indicates.
“You’ve just got to be aggressive,” Price said. “Even if their bigger or taller, you can’t let it phase you. You’ve got to go up and get it.”
Price, who scored her game-high 17 points on 7 of 12 shooting, proved to be tough to stop in the paint, bullying her way to the ball and finding herself in the right position for rebounds more often than not.
“She wants the ball really bad,” Topeka High coach Shanna Perine said. “And she’s always working to get it. Even if she doesn’t have it, she’s working to get it, and that makes for a deadly combination.”
With Elayna Spilker still out with an injury, Price and Caroline Ballard have been shouldering the scoring load for the Indians. Price said it’s not a coincidence.
“That’s been my goal since she got hurt,” she said. “To pick up the team and make sure we keep getting better.”
Ballard scored 13 in the win, pairing with Price as a formidable 1-2 punch in the lane. When Spilker was healthy early in the year, it wasn’t uncommon for either Price or Ballard to have good games, but not always both. Since her injury, both have been playing well, which helps the other that much more.
“It helps a lot, because if they go in on her, that means I’ll be open or somebody else will be open and we can get the ball and put in,” Price said. “It’s really good to have more than one girl scoring well.”
Manhattan went on a 14-0 run at the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter to put the game away, but Topeka High (7-7, 3-4 Centennial) fought hard up to that point. The Trojans took a 28-27 lead late in the third quarter, but allowed a layup by Price and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Savannah Thaemert to give Manhattan the edge going into the fourth.
Topeka High continued to battle, pulling within 36-34 before Manhattan’s big run effectively ended any chance of a comeback. Manhattan coach Scott Mall said holding the Trojans to just one shot each trip on defense was the key.
“When it was tight like it was, it was good to see us step up and make some plays,” Mall said. “We kept doing a good job defensively, and I thought we did a great job on the defensive boards. They got shots, but very rarely got second shots late.”
Manhattan (11-3, 5-2) held talented freshman Adrianna Henderson to just two points on 1 of 8 shooting. Instead it was Jasmine Martindale providing the tough matchup, knocking down jumpshots and using her size to score easy baskets in the paint. Martindale finished with a team-high 12 points, but the Indians shut her down, along with the rest of the Trojans, late in the quarter to pull away.
“Madden went out with a bloody nose, and I think that hurt us,” she said. “Defensively, we just broke down. Too many communication errors - they went to a different offense and I think they had six points in a row on back cuts and screens that we should have been defending. We just weren’t communicating.”
Both teams struggled with turnovers in the first half, with Manhattan committing 12 in the first two quarters. Mall said Spilker’s absence and the Trojans’ aggressiveness made things tough in the early going for Manhattan’s ballhandlers.
“They’re very aggressive and very athletic and they got after us,” Mall said. “And I think we just played tight in the first half. A lot of times we put ourselves in bad situations.”
Perine said she was pleased with her team’s defense for most of the game, but it doesn’t matter how you play early if you don’t close it out.
“I think our defense was good up until the last four minutes of the game,” she said. “I don’t know if we tend to get tired and stop playing there for a couple minutes, but you can’t do that against a good team on the road.”
The Indians’ lead got up to eight in the second quarter, but the Trojans got a couple of timely 3s from Whitney Brooks to close the gap and tie the game. Manhattan led 22-20 at halftime.