It was a letdown of a day Saturday for area girls’ basketball teams as all four followed up strong, sub-state semifinal wins earlier in the week with a loss, one-game short of their respective state tournaments.
It was a season that many of these teams would never forget, but a day they wish they could do over.
Leavenworth High’s five-year streak of trips to the Class 5A state finals has ended.
For the fourth time in six years, the Pioneers saw their season terminated at the hands of St. Thomas Aquinas, the two-time defending state champions.
But not without a fight.
The young Pioneers used a stellar defensive effort to keep the game close for 80 percent of the contest before the top-seeded Saints went on a game-closing run late to pull away for a 45-26 win and another sub-state championship.
“At halftime it was frustrating because we missed some shots in the first quarter and we struggled offensively in the first quarter and felt it should have been a four-point instead of a 10-point game,” LVHS head coach Derek Bissitt said. “Our effort throughout the season just got better and better and better. We did some things different because we had to this year. The kids fought and got better, especially in the last month of the season and I was proud of them tonight and how they battled.”
Senior Cierra Robinson scored 12 points to lead LVHS in her final game in a Pioneer uniform.
“We are sending off Cierra, but all these underclassmen and only one senior, what kind of commitment are you going to make these nine months?” Bissitt said. “Next season doesn’t start in November when the season rolls around. It starts in June and July when you get in the gym. You have to be working the next nine months to get ready for these moments.”
No. 8 seeded LVHS (13-9) had a number of easy scoring opportunities in the first quarter, but failed to convert and trailed 9-4 after eight minutes of play as STA’s size and patience was evident early.
The Saints broke out to a 15-4 lead and later 26-12 late in the second quarter, but then Alecia Jones scored the last four points of the first half to keep the game interesting heading into the break.
Thanks to eight Robinson points, the Pioneers trailed 26-16 at intermission.
The third quarter was definitely in favor of the LVHS girls, who crept to within 30-24 heading into the fourth quarter and it should have been closer as the champs’ offense was put into park, while the Pioneers were full go even if they were unable to always stay between the lines.
If they had, more shots might have fallen and the last eight minutes could have seen the Leavenworth squad ahead instead.
Then STA went on a 15-2 fourth-quarter run of dominance behind mainly a desire to punch the ball inside against the smaller Pioneers and crept away for a relatively, misleading, comfortable win.
“We missed some layups and missed some crucial shots when we had it down to six and those are deflaters,” Bissitt said. “It’s hard to maintain the defensive intensity when you are missing those shots and free throws that you have to make. Offensively, we didn’t have a margin for error all season and when we get those easy looks, you have to finish them in a game like this … that’s a killer. I think it deflated us and took some of our energy away from us.
“STA is so big and they do what they do. When you are giving up, pretty much two to five inches at every position … they probe for your weakness and when they have kids that can go and post up, they will find that weakness eventually and they will pound it inside. That’s what they did. They would stop us and then pound it inside.”
The Leavenworth roster is expected to reload with the lone senior loss.
The die has been cast and now they hope to take what they’ve learned and reward it with future results.
“We all had to step up and it is propelling us into next year since we all know what we have to do – we aren’t the young team anymore,” junior center McKenzie Brown said. “Next year, we can’t be like ‘we didn’t play varsity, I don’t know what to do.’ It’s now, ‘I’ve been in this situation … I can do this.’ Everyone will step up and (the juniors) know how to be leaders now and (take responsibility).
“We had the opportunities, but we didn’t capitalize on them. We gave up six offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter – we can’t let that happen. It’s just little things. We all came into this game thinking we had this, we are winning. We all needed to have that mindset. If we didn’t, we would have gotten rolled.”
Lansing eliminated in sub-state tournament
By BRYAN EDWARD
Special the Leavenworth Times
As the teams took the floor Saturday night at Lansing High School for the 5A Girls Basketball Sub-State Championship between No. 3 Lansing and No. 11 St. James Academy, Thunder coach Samantha Paradise was yelling to her team to go fast.
Which is exactly what her team’s offense did for all four quarters as they upset the Lady Lions 55-51 for its second sub-state title in school history and its first under Paradise.
St. James came out fast and remained in control most of the game.
Lansing (16-6) continued to fight to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but both times Lansing was able to tie it up, the Thunder (8-14) had an answer.
“We like to play fast too, so if they’re saying play fast, that’s our style of game, I’ll get in a race with anybody in the state, it just didn’t go our way tonight,” Lansing coach KC Simmons said.
The Lady Lions best chance at tying the game for the third time in the quarter came late with 2:47 remaining in the game. After a contested layup by junior guard Taylor Lang fell short, junior forward Kennedy Farris was able to grab the rebound and was fouled before she could get her shot off. She went to the free throw line with her team trailing 51-49, but missed the front end of her 1-and-1 opportunity.
“We can’t spot them 10 points each half,” Simmons said when asked about the Thunders’ fast tempo. “We were down 26-16, then we came back to take the lead before halftime, which was nice to see the fight from our kids, but the same thing happened in the second half, we spotted them 10 points again.”
After trailing by as many as 10 points in the second quarter, Lansing was able to shut down the Thunder offense which had dropped 21 points on the Lady Lions in the first quarter, by holding them scoreless on their last 12 possessions of the half and were able to take a 27-26 lead into halftime.
The one-point lead was quickly erased by St. James who scored on their first three possessions of the second half and went on an 11-0 run to lead Lansing 37-27 less than three minutes into the second half.
“It’s hard to win games when you’re constantly working up hill,” said Simmons. “It takes a lot of energy to tie it up and when you’re spending all that energy just to tie it, it’s hard to get over that hill.”
The proverbial hill Simmons referred to was seemingly there the entire game with St. James knocking down, at times, low percentage, contested 3-point shots.
“The Thunder knocked down eight 3-pointers for the game, four of which came in the first quarter, allowing them to get out to a quick lead and take a 21-12 lead into the second quarter.
“That might be the highest anyone has scored on us all year,” Simmons said, referring to St. James’ first quarter.
Lansing was led by junior forward Gerenda Smith, who finished the game 20 points. Smith was the only Lady Lion to score in double digits.
Senior guard Regan Gaston finished the game with nine points and senior guard Megan Ernzen finished with eight.
“We played hard, start to finish,” Ernzen said as she fought back tears following her last high school game. “I couldn’t be prouder of how we played today. I know just a couple things didn’t go our way and that’s what got us out of the game, but overall I think that we couldn’t have played better.”
No. 1 Kansas City Piper 65, No. 2 BASEHOR-LINWOOD 46
Katie Yankovich scored 13 points, Riley Tinder added 10 points and Libby Stallbaumer pitched in with nine points for BLHS which saw its season come to an end in its own sub-state championship game Saturday night.
Yankovich made two triples to finish the season with a school record 42 for a season. Freshman Adell Gore also broke a BLHS season record with 80-plus steals.
“I am proud of our entire program,” BLHS head coach Jason Tatkenhorst said. “All of players are great kids. We have six seniors. Giorgia Nespoli played for our program this year and was a great addition. We have two managers that have been with us for all four years, Nichole Smith and Madison Hermann.
“We have three seniors that I've had the honor following their basketball career for six years. I started watching them at a MAYB tournament in Topeka – Carly Gore, Libby and Katie have played basketball the right way, every day that I've seen them play for those six years. Our program owes so much to them.”
No. 1 Nemaha Central 56, No. 3 PLEASANT RIDGE 44
The Rams fought back from a big first-quarter deficit to make things a little tense against the No. 1 team in 3A before falling short at Horton.
Lindsey Heim led PRHS with 14 points, Julie Miller added eight points and Montanna Adams finished her prep career with seven points.
“Our girls fought their butts off and came up short,” PRHS head coach Mike Koontz said. “I cannot say enough about how much fight our girls have. It’s so much fun to coach a group of girls that want to fight for everything.”