T-Birds stun Manhattan girls, 54-52

By Grant Guggisberg

It doesn’t necessarily show in the win column, but Manhattan head coach Scott Mall knew Shawnee Heights is a much improved team since the Jan. 4, meeting between the two schools.

The T-Birds took several top-level Centennial League teams to the wire in the last few weeks, and it was only a matter of time before they put everything together and pulled off an upset.

In Friday night’s 54-52 T-Bird win, that’s exactly what happened.

Danielle Poblarp scored 23 points, 17 in the second half, to lead the hot-shooting T-Birds past the Indians.

Shawnee Heights (5-11, 4-5 Centennial) had success with Poblarp, their primary ballhandler, drawing plenty of attention as she drove to the basket and kicked out to open shooters on the perimeter. When Manhattan (12-4, 6-3) didn’t collapse on her, she would get all the way to the rim for layups.

“We had a lot of trouble stopping Poblarp with the screen and roll, and then when they hit 3s, they’re awful tough,” Mall said. “We did a good job of doing the fundamental things on offense to get that lead in the second half, then all of the sudden we had three or four trips where we came down and got crazy. They score during that stretch, we don’t, and all of a sudden it’s a different ballgame.”

Manhattan had an 11-point lead in the third quarter, but gave it all up when Poblarp knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the span of a minute, followed by a bucket by Samantha Hecker to cut the Indian lead to three. Poblarp would tie the game two minutes later with a runner in the lane.

In the fourth quarter, both teams went back and forth, with two free throws from Poblarp giving the T-Birds a 49-48 lead with less than two minutes to play. Caroline Ballard, who scored a career-high 23 points for the Indians, answered on the other end with a bucket to give Manhattan back the lead.

On the ensuing defensive possession, Manhattan switched to a zone to try and slow down the hot-shooting T-Birds, but Bailey Wells found herself open behind the arc and swished a 3 to give her team a 52-50 lead.

After Manhattan’s Kristen Thompson answered with a layup on a nice pass by Ballard to even the score, Poblarp got the winning basket on a screen and roll play that left her open all the way to the rim.

“The play before that, we tried to go to a zone to mess things up, but we got a bad shift and didn’t get a girl covered and they hit that 3 to go up two,” Mall said. “The next trip, we had to go back to man-to-man, and they did what they’d been doing, they got a drive to the basket and were able to penetrate.”

Manhattan had 10 seconds to try and answer, but Par McNair’s pull-up jumper was off the mark, and the second attempt after her offensive rebound was blocked to preserve the T-Bird victory.

In addition to her 24 points, Ballard grabbed 13 rebounds for a double-double. But Manhattan didn’t get double-digit scoring from anyone else, with Darby Price going 3 for 12 for eight points and Amara Ehie coming off the bench to score eight points, six of which came from the charity stripe. Joining Poblarp in double-figure scoring for the T-Birds was Wells with 11 points.

“The girls have really kept at it,” Shawnee Heights coach Bob Wells said. “That’s been the thing that’s most impressive. These girls have really stayed with it, and it’s been a tough road most of the season.”

Manhattan did manage to outrebound the T-Birds by a 41-19 margin, with an 18-2 advantage on the offensive boards. But facing a zone defense much of the night, Manhattan didn’t always have the patience to get a good look on its first attempt.

“When we were patient and moved it, we really got good shots,” Mall said. “We moved the ball side to side and got Darby the ball in the middle of the lane and made baskets or made good passes. But then there were the times when we came down and pushed the ball down the floor and threw a pass too hard, or took an early shot.”

Early in the game, McNair drew the defensive assignment on Poblarp, but struggled to stay in front of her without defensive help. She picked up her third foul midway through the second quarter, with Savannah Thaemert getting most of her minutes.

“I thought Savannah Thaemert did a great job on her,” Mall said. “She seemed like the only girl who could control her, with a lot of good help. We put our forward up there so we could each take a side of her, and they adjusted with the screen and roll to the basket. It’s just tough to stop her and guard the 3-point shooters.”

Shawnee Heights finished the night shooting 45 percent from the floor and 53 percent (7 of 13) from 3-point range. Manhattan shot 33 percent and just 2 of 10 from deep. Manhattan took plenty of free throws, finishing the night 20 of 33 from the line. Shawnee Heights was 7 of 14.

“I thought our girls were out there really battling hard and doing a lot of good things,” Mall said. “We just left too many points out there when we had good shots and didn’t hit them. Our free-throw percentage wasn’t always great, so we left points out there that we worked hard for.”

Spliker commits to Butler

While she is still sidelined by a foot injury, Elayna Spilker has verbally committed to play in college at Butler County Community College next year.

“It’s a good place to be,” Mall said. “I know there were other schools, particularly junior colleges, that were interested. Independence and Cloud both showed interested, but she visited Butler and really liked it there.”

Mall said Spilker is still day-to-day with her foot injury. She is able to practice some of the time, but soreness has kept her off the hardwood on game days for the last three weeks.

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