No. 7-seed Wichita Heights pulls upset, prepares for Maize
After Maize beat Wichita Heights for a tournament championship in January, the girls basketball teams will face off again in the Class 6A state semifinal Friday.
Heights, the No. 7 seed, will bring a 17-6 record to the matchup with No. 3-seeded Maize, now 21-2. The Eagles won the previous game 52-44 at the Shawnee Heights tournament.
The state competition, however, is on a much bigger stage. It takes place at Wichita State University’s Koch Arena, where Wichita Heights won the past two state titles. The Falcons ensured another trip to the semifinals with a 50-43 victory over Olathe South on Thursday, March 7.
Senior Jharian Bowen led Heights early, scoring 12 of its first 14 points. However, freshman Zoe Matje shined for Olathe South, scoring 11 of its first 18, including a trio of three-pointers. Matje’s last trey in the series left her team with an 18-9 advantage.
In the battle of Falcons vs. Falcons, Olathe South remained ahead 23-14 when Heights coach Kip Pulliam called for timeout with 1:30 left in the first half. Seniors Kaitlyn Palmer and Jurnee Newberry each put up a bucket before halftime, when Heights trailed 23-18.
The home team continued its flurry when play resumed. Senior Makayla Harding scored the first basket of the second half, and Palmer followed with a three-pointer that tied the game 23-23.
Pulliam said the girls had a slow start in the first half but played better defensively in the second. He also commended Harding for her intensity and said she “led us to victory.”
“She’s our energy, she’s our heart and our soul,” he continued.
Olathe South was clinging to a 38-36 lead with 5:55 remaining in the game. Harding’s free throw and then Newberry’s three-pointer left Heights with a 40-38 lead.
Each side picked up free throws until Heights used a timeout at the 2:37 mark. Olathe South’s deficit was just one, 42-41, but the squad went cold and began fouling Heights, which sank eight of 10 free throws in the final 1:41.
The Heights-Olathe South showdown has occurred in four of the past five state tournaments. Olathe South edged Heights for the tournament crown in 2010.
Pulliam said that the rival Falcons got used to Heights’ press during last year’s game, so he wanted to start with man-to-man defense Thursday. He was especially proud that his squad won a close game.
“We lost those games earlier in the year,” he remarked. “We didn’t do what we had to do to finish.”
Olathe South outrebounded Heights 33-20 but committed 18 turnovers Thursday. Heights shot only 27.3 percent in the first quarter but improved that total to 40 percent by the end of the game.
Olathe South sophomore Kylee Kopatich scored a game-high 19 points. Heights had three players in double figures: Palmer (16 points), Bowen (14) and Newberry (13).
Friday’s matchup with Maize will be especially significant for Newberry since she transferred from the school after last season. She is a starter for Heights.
Pulliam said Heights had developed team chemistry as this season progressed.
“It’s them coming into their own, finally,” he added. “ … We’re still not there, but we’ve got two more games to figure it out.”
Maize 46, Washburn Rural 36
Third-seeded Maize used a strong start to secure a victory over the No. 6 seed, Washburn Rural, 46-36. The Eagles jumped out to an 11-0 lead before a Washburn Rural free throw put the Junior Blues on the board.
Maize led 19-6 at the end of the first quarter. The Junior Blues outscored the Eagles 30-27 in the rest of the game, but they couldn’t overcome their abysmal first quarter.
No Washburn Rural players scored in double figures. Maize’s lone senior, Paige Lungwitz, scored 17 points and grabbed four steals. Sophomore Keiryn Swenson contributed 12 points.
Wichita South 36, Blue Valley Stilwell 31
Top-seeded Wichita South escaped the first round of the tournament with a 36-31 victory over the No. 8 seed, Blue Valley Stilwell.
South was scoreless for more than four minutes late in the first quarter and early in the second. Blue Valley Stilwell led 20-15 at halftime.
Free throws were crucial in the game. South shot one for five in the first half while the Tigers went eight of 10. All five of South’s points in the third quarter were from free throws.
The teams were tied 27-27 with 2:30 left in the game. South’s Eledria Franklin drained a three-pointer that gave the Titans a lead they would not relinquish.
Blue Valley Stilwell trailed 30-27 and then a pair of free throws narrowed the gap to one, 30-29. However, South outscored the Tigers 6-2 down the stretch – and all six of its points were free throws. The Titans went six of eight from the stripe in the final 1:16.
Kendrian Elliott had a double-double, 14 points and 12 rebounds, for South (22-1). Blue Valley Stilwell’s Jarin Braithwait scored a game-high 19 points.
Blue Valley North 58, Olathe Northwest 55 (OT)
North, the No. 4 seed, and fifth-seeded Northwest entered the game with identical records. They played to overtime and North eked out a 58-55 win.
Northwest led 37-36 heading into the fourth quarter and held a 46-42 advantage with 44 seconds left. Following a timeout, North resorted to fouling and, thanks to a pair of Northwest misses at the stripe, the Mustangs capitalized and sent the game to overtime. The teams were tied 46-46.
North led 52-50 at the 36-second mark, when Northwest coach Joel Branstrom – a former Kansas men’s basketball walk-on – was whistled for a technical foul. North sank both free throws and maintained possession of the ball. Each squad hit all the rest of its free throw attempts, but the Ravens could not manage a bucket and lost 58-55.
North (19-4) outrebounded Northwest 57-31, and the Ravens committed 20 turnovers. North’s Caroline Dupont produced a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.