WAMEGO — At halftime of Tuesday’s game against Nemaha Valley, the Wamego girls’ basketball team found itself in an uncommon position.
The Red Raiders were behind.
For two quarters, it looked as if Nemaha Valley might have the recipe for an upset against the top-ranked Red Raiders, but a two-point halftime lead turned into an eight-point deficit in the third quarter as Wamego forced nine turnovers in the period to turn the game around, going on to win 47-31.
“The difference in the second half was our defensive intensity,” Wamego head coach Jim Page said. “We really picked it up and went full court a little bit, and the girls just calmed down a little bit. We got behind there early and then we started pressing offensively, and when you don’t play relaxed, it gets to you.”
Nemaha Valley recovered enough to make the game interesting early in the fourth quarter, getting as close as five, but Kaylee Page and the Red Raiders closed the game with an 11-0 run over the final four minutes, most of which came at the free-throw line. Kaylee finished 10 of 14 from the charity stripe, while the rest of the team combined to make 4 of 6.
Kaylee finished the game with a game-high 23 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Though her outside shot wasn’t falling at its usual rate, the senior was able to get into the paint in the second half.
Lanie Page also struggled shooting the ball, finishing with eight points on 3-of-11 shooting. Allison Seufert finished with six points.
Nemaha Valley was led by Rachel Baumgartner’s nine points, while Madison Koch and Jaci Swart each finished with seven.
Nemaha Valley’s triangle-and-two defense stifled the Red Raiders in the first half, forcing them into difficult shots while giving the defense a chance to keep the Page sisters from finding a rhythm.
It worked, with Kaylee and Lanie combining for 3-of-16 shooting in the first half and a combined 10 points. The stiff defense also helped build a 20-18 halftime lead for Nemaha.
“Playing against a team like Wamego with the Page girls, they pose some matchup problems for us,” Nemaha Valley head coach Hadden Hiltgen said. “We’re still growing, we’re young, but to be with a team like that for three quarters and to have them on the ropes for a half, we just have to learn to play for four quarters and not two.”
Hiltgen said the junk defenses were working reasonably well, but don’t work when you’re trying to overcome a fourth-quarter deficit.
“We wanted to make those other girls beat us as much as possible,” he said. “We wanted to have someone on those Page girls at all times. Obviously it worked for three quarters, but when you get behind, you have to change it up.”
Jim said the team got away from its game plan against the triangle-and-two defense, which caused the slow start. While the Red Raiders are ranked No. 1 in the KBCA rankings in Class 4A Div. I, Jim knows the team must learn to play with the same kind of chemistry it had last year if Wamego is going to repeat as state champions.
“The chemistry last year was really huge with Rikki (Alderson) and Lakyn (Rowden), they played with my girls for so long, so we’re still working on finding that chemistry,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to having four days off where we can practice. Sometimes we just stub our toe and can’t find that chemistry.”