There was a stretch, though, when they got a real wake-up call.
The Blue Aces had just finished a 15-1 run, spanning the end of the first half and beginning of the second. They led the Thunderbirds 41-12 early in the third quarter.
Then the game took an unexpected twist.
Part of it was East coach James Cole pulling his starters because he didn’t like how they were playing together. Part of it was Cole wanting to get his reserve players some quality time.
Part of it was most definitely Circle sophomore Katelynn Wilson heating up. She came off the bench and led the Thunderbirds with 12 points, including three 3-pointers, all in the second half.
Whatever the reason, Circle was finishing a 19-4 run about the time starting guard Kimmirra Lee was fouling out for East. The Thunderbirds still trailed by 14, but they definitely had East’s attention.
“Before that run, people on our team were starting to get comfortable,” East senior Eileen Vlasmis said. “People were worried about getting ‘theirs’ and scoring their own points. I think tonight we learned we need to keep pushing harder; working as a team to put the foot on the throat.”
Eleven points were scored from that point on, and East had nine of them. The Blue Aces went on to land two players on the all-tournament team: Tori Spann and Relina Johnson.
Johnson, who led all scorers with 17 points Saturday, was named tournament MVP.
Cole was pleased. His Blue Aces , trying for their first winning season in six years, are 5-7 but have won three of their last four.
“Things are definitely looking up,” Cole said, “even though it took us awhile to get to this point. The girls are really starting to find themselves on the defensive end, which is always a big key if you want to have a successful team in the City League.”
Lee scored 11 points and Raven Baldwin added 10 for East. Jacy Gibbs scored 10 for Circle, which fell to 7-6.
“I think they’re progressing,” said Cole, whose Blue Aces played Circle in the same tournament a year ago. “They’re a lot more aggressive than they were last year. They’re more confident and they’re well coached. But they lack what we lack in the City League: Size and depth.”
Circle coach Brian Henry can’t disagree. Still, he was proud of how the Class 4A Thunderbirds stood up to 6A teams on back-to-back nights. Losing by seven to Gardner-Edgerton in the semifinals the night before, Henry said, took away some of some of their energy for East.
“We wanted to focus on not letting them get the drive into the paint,” Henry said. “We had to get back to the basket a lot faster than we’re used to. … We played a little looser (during the 19-4 run). These are games that are going to help prepare us for the end of the season and into substate.”
Mill Valley 48, Gardner-Edgerton 28 – Jaguars senior Stephanie Lichtenauer, last year’s tournament MVP and the team’s tallest player at 5-foot-10, scored 16 points to lead all scorers in the Lady Cat Classic’s anticlimactic championship game.
Tanner Tripp added 11 for the Jaguars, who easily repeated as Lady Cat champs.
El Dorado 46, Collegiate 27 – The host Wildcats held Collegiate to seven points in the second half of Saturday’s fifth-place game.
Hannah Helferich and Jerica Skar each scored 12 for El Dorado and Collegiate, respectively.
Wichita West 57, Augusta 51 – Jamisha Bonner scored 26 points – 18 from the field and six from free throws – to lead the Pioneers in the seventh-place game.
Aujanae McCoy added 14 for West. Augusta was led by Casady Malinee’s 17.