TOPEKA — Red-faced and bleary-eyed, Manhattan’s girls filed out of the visitors’ locker room one by one. They hugged their teammates, their parents and anyone willing to squeeze, really.
The end always hurts. After Tuesday’s 50-36 loss to Washburn Rural at Washburn Rural High School, the Indians said goodbye to four seniors: Emma Griffee, Taylor Claussen, Gillian Awbrey and Maddy Kuntz.
Even after all the hugs, Claussen couldn’t believe it was over.
“I’m still waiting for it to hit me that we’re not going to practice tomorrow,” she said. “I’m really proud of how we battled tonight. They just got (shots) to fall that we didn’t.”
With 4:40 remaining in the third quarter, Claussen pumped her fists and yelled “Let’s go!” after sinking a 3-pointer that cut Washburn Rural’s lead to 31-24. But in the 6:40 that followed, the Indians (11-10), as they too often did Wednesday, struggled to find their touch.
They failed to score during the final 4:39 of the third quarter, and they didn’t score another field goal until Paige Chauncey converted a put-back with exactly six minutes to play.
Manhattan never pulled within single digits again. The Junior Blues (17-2), always comfortable in the lead, played with enough poise late to close the game.
“It’s hard to force them into mistakes,” Manhattan head coach Scott Mall said. “They get the ball in the right place. They don’t make a lot of mistakes.”
Mall’s players cut back on their mistakes, too. After their 69-31 loss to Washburn Rural on Jan. 12, the Indians slowed the pace during their final two matchups against the Junior Blues.
Manhattan lost by 14 on both occasions, and Mall felt his team was within striking distance until the last two minutes of Wednesday’s loss.
But each time they got close, they hit a drought. After Claussen put them up 10-8 by making a 3-pointer with two minutes left in the first quarter, they failed to score for 5:43. Meanwhile, Washburn Rural guard Zoe Canfield hit four first-half 3-pointers to help the Junior Blues build a 28-16 halftime lead.
Canfield finished with 17 points, 14 of which came in the first half. At halftime, Mall reminded his team about their strict defensive principles regarding Washburn Rural’s ace shooter.
“We can’t leave 15 when she’s on the ball side,” Mall said. “We gave her too many of the looks she wanted.”
Conversely, the Indians couldn’t generate enough quality shots. And when they could, they couldn’t hit them consistently. Grace Dixon led the Indians with 11 points. Nobody else cracked double figures.
“We kind of forced things,” Mall said. “We tried to do a little too much, and we missed some good shots. We played them much better than we have, but we just didn’t get where we needed to be.”
Manhattan discovered hope one last time when Ava Bahr hit a 3-pointer to cut the Junior Blues’ lead to 45-34 with five minutes to play. But that momentum-builder faded just like the rest of them: without follow-ups. Manhattan failed to convert another field goal after Bahr’s 3-pointer. The Indians’ final drought sealed their loss, which brought on the tears, which led to the hugs.
Claussen, who shared the longest postgame embrace with her family, said the Indians were playing too fast against Washburn Rural. As a result, her high school career ended too quickly for her to process.
Mall hopes next year’s class can avoid a similar fate. The first step toward achieving that goal is learning from Wednesday’s disappointment.
“I think it’s a matter of learning from the older girls,” Mall said. “The seniors always say it goes by too fast. If we want to take another step next year, we have to learn from our mistakes.”
WASHBURN RURAL 50,
Totals: 12-31 FG, 8-12 FT, 36 points
Ava Bahr 1-2 0-0 3, Destiny Yates 0-0 1-2 1, Taylor Claussen 3-8 0-0 9, Avery Larson 1-7 0-0 2, Grace Dixon 5-7 1-4 11, Maxine Doering 1-6 5-6 7, Paige Chauncey 1-2 1-2 3
Washburn Rural (50)
Totals: 16-36 FG, 8-13 FT, 50 points
MaRyah Lutz 1-3 0-0 2, Emma Krueger 2-10 2-2 6, Zoe Canfield 6-7 0-0 17, Jada Ingram 3-6 3-6 9, Brookyn DeLeye 3-4 2-3 8, Ella Hartig 2-6 0-0 5
3-point field goals made Manhattan 4 (Claussen 3, Bahr); Washburn Rural 6 (Canfield 5, Hurtig)
Turnovers: Manhattan 14, Washburn Rural 13