Central Plains girls continue reign with seventh state championship
GREAT BEND — The sense outside of the powerhouse Central Plains girls basketball program was that the Oilers were vulnerable this season.
And by their standards, they might have indeed been vulnerable, to some extent.
But any predictions about the end of the dynasty turned out to be premature.
After a feeling-out process in the first half of the year, the Oilers hit their stride down the stretch and capped off another championship run with a hard-earned 39-35 win over Cunningham in the Class 1A Division II final on Saturday at Barton Community College.
It was the seventh consecutive title for Central Plains, and it very likely would have been the Oilers' eighth in a row if not for the cancellation of the tournament's semifinal and final rounds last year.
"At the beginning of the year, I told people we were going to surprise people this year," Central Plains coach Pat Stiles said. "I saw how good the (returning players) were; they were just behind some really, really good kids. We started out slow, and it took a while to get our chemistry going, but the last quarter of (the season) and through the playoffs, we were really good."
Central Plains was tasked with replacing 3,000-point scorer and current Iowa State Cyclone Emily Ryan, as well as three other starters from a program that entered the year with a 136-game winning streak.
The streak was snapped at 138 games early in the season by Phillipsburg, and the Oilers also suffered losses to Sterling and Hesston on the season, bringing some rare adversity to a program that went undefeated in each of the previous five seasons.
"I think (the adversity) was big," Stiles said. "After a loss you can get (through) to them a little bit better. We had to be more patient, we had to run better offense, and they just got better and better. Those are some great kids there."
Central Plains (22-3) found themselves in a dog-fight against a hungry Cunningham team in search of its first state title for the program.
The Wildcats were within two inside two minutes left, but Central Plains put Cunningham away with a couple layups off pretty passes.
Cunningham (23-2) led for most of the first half, but Central Plains knotted it up with a putback from Brynna Hammeke before halftime.
Back to back 3s from Hammeke and Kassidy Nixon gave the Oilers an eight-point lead in the third quarter. After Central Plains took a six-point lead into the fourth, Cunningham cut it to 33-31 on two free throws from Morgan Meyers midway through the final frame.
The Wildcats had a shot at a lead but missed a 3-pointer with 1:41 left. Hammeke then found Nixon for a give-and-go on the other end to help give the Oilers some breathing room.
"That's part of our offense when the post comes up, and we pass and go," Stiles said. "The kids just executed."
Nixon, a junior, and Hammeke, a sophomore, led Central Plains with 14 and 13 points, respectively. Nixon grabbed 11 rebounds for a double-double. Jennah Jeffrey added nine points.
Cunningham finished 9 of 32 from the field, while Central Plains was 15 of 35.
"(Defense is) what they hang their hat on," Stiles said of his team. "They know that they've got to play defense to give themselves a chance to win a game. And they did. They were spectacular."
Morgan Meyers led Cunningham with 15 points. Maddie McGuire and Maddi Panek each pulled down eight rebounds.
"Cunningham had a good team, a really good team," Stiles said.
Four Oiler seniors — Jeffrey, Monica Short, Lexi Oeser and Callie Zink — ended their careers with another state championship.
"It gives better every time," Jeffrey said. "It's an amazing way to end."
CENTRAL PLAINS 39, CUNNINGHAM 35
Cunningham — A. McGuire 1-4 1-2 3, M. McGuire 0-3 5-8 5, Panek 2-4 1-2 5, Meyers 3-11 6-7 15, R. McGuire 3-7 0-0 7, Hansen 0-0 0-0 0, Wright 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 9-32 13-19 35.
Central Plains — Hammeke 6-11 0-1 13, Nixon 6-11 2-3 14, Oeser 1-5 0-0 3, Short 0-3 0-0 0, Jeffrey 2-5 4-5 9, Steiner 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 15-35 6-11 39.
3-point goals — Cunningham 4-13 (Meyers 3-9, R. McGuire 1-4). Central Plains 3-7 (Hammeke 1-3, Oeser 1-3, Jeffrey 1-1). Rebounds — Cunningham 22 (M. McGuire 8, Panek 8). Central Plains 28 (Nixon 11). Total fouls — Cunningham 15, Central Plains 14. Fouled out — none.