TOPEKA — With Washburn Rural playing Seaman and Manhattan traveling to Hayden, Tuesday night’s Centennial League games went a long way toward crowning a league champion, not to mention impacting the sub-state standings.
Unfortunately for the Indians, neither outcome benefited them, with Washburn Rural beating Seaman 38-29 and Manhattan falling to Hayden 56-43.
The loss eliminated the slim possibility of a tie atop the league standings that would include the Indians after Friday’s games, while also creating a three-way tie for the top seed at the Junction City sub-state, with Rural holding an individual tie breaker over the Indians.
The game itself was especially frustrating for Manhattan, as the Wildcats dialed up a full-court press that forced 19 turnovers, many of which went the other way for easy transition baskets.
“I didn’t think we played great at the start, but the girls really battled and made some things happen in the first quarter,” Manhattan coach Scott Mall said. “We gave up too many points, but the girls did a lot to make plays and keep us even with them. That second quarter, we still scored points, but we gave up too many.”
The last time Manhattan and Hayden’s girls met on the hardwood, missed baskets were the norm and transition offense was almost non-existent in a 29-22 Hayden win. That changed in Tuesday’s rematch, with both teams needing just a half to eclipse their point totals from the first matchup between the two schools. Hayden led 34-24 at halftime after its press created a 10-2 discrepancy in first-half turnovers.
“In the first half, especially that second quarter, they got after us and we got really carried away,” Mall said. “I needed to do more to stop the momentum in the second quarter and didn’t get it done.”
Manhattan (14-5, 8-4 Centennial) avoided the slow start that put them in an early hole in January’s loss, but couldn’t keep it going, taking a 10-2 lead but allowing Hayden to go on a 19-2 run.
The Indians started the third quarter poorly, allowing an 8-0 run for Hayden with three straight turnovers on offense. After a quick timeout, Manhattan answered with a 7-0 run of its own and played even the rest of the third quarter, entering the final period trailing by 10.
In the fourth, Manhattan cut the lead to six with 5:56 to play, but didn’t score again until Molly Fiser’s 3-pointer at the buzzer, while Hayden closed out the game from the line, making 6 of 9 free throws in the fourth.
Mall said part of Hayden’s success was limiting Manhattan’s second chances by controlling the boards.
“They really did a good job of hitting the boards hard,” he said. “I thought Darby and Caroline really battled well in there, it just seemed like they always had us outnumbered inside, so there was always two people on us when we tried to rebound the ball.”
Darby Price led Manhattan with 11 points, while Elayna Spilker scored nine points in her first full-game back since her injury in January.
“She’s still getting used to it and we have to get used to her, but she did a lot of good things that really helped us out,” Mall said. “As she gets more comfortable, I think everything will work out even better. It’s been a long time for her, and she played a lot of minutes, more than I would have liked to have her play tonight, but she was out there battling the whole time.”
For Hayden (15-4, 10-2), the win over Manhattan couldn’t have come at a better time. Leading the Centennial League race with an undefeated league record into February, the Wildcats dropped back-to-back games against Seaman and Washburn Rural last week to fall into a three-way tie for first. With Rural beating Seaman Tuesday night, that leaves Hayden and Rural tied for the league lead.
“Last week’s losses really hurt, and we knew that this game was going to be a turning point,” said Hayden’s Sarah Pimentel, who finished with a game-high 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting. “We had a good talk about how we made mistakes and how we had to move on because it was about the game that was coming up, not the ones we just played. That was all we could worry about.”
For the Indians, their one-game lead in the sub-state standings is now gone. Mall said all his team can do is come out and play its best on Friday to try and build momentum for sub-state.
“We have to keep getting better,” he said. “Our focus is on our goal which is to go to the state tournament, so we need to play well Friday and go out and have a good game and get ourselves prepared so we can go out next week and be ready to play at our best and get a couple wins.”