Saturday’s Tournament of Champions title game in Pratt answered a philosophical question of sorts: Can a Class 1A power beat a Class 6A power? The answer, at least based on the outcome of Saturday’s game, is no. But it is not so definitive. Wichita South, the No. 2 ranked team in Class 6A, needed overtime to beat St. John, the No. 3 team in Class 1A, Div. I, in a 26-24 battle.
The tournament title is just part of South’s success story. The Lady Titans won just three games in two years before Antwain Scales took over as head coach last season, leading South to the state tournament with a 16-8 record. Last year, the Titans finished third at the TOC.
“We were coming back for redemption this year,” Scales said. “To come back here and actually get a win, it’s redemption. It’s the last time we’ll be in this tournament so it’s a great win for our program and a great win for our kids.”
South (11-1) held St. John (12-1) to just two field goals through three quarters of play, but only managed a slight 18-12 lead with 5:50 to play in regulation. The Lady Titans failed to take advantage of the bonus, missing three-straight front-ends at the free throw line. The Lady Tigers capitalized on those mistakes with a free throw from Alexis Witt and two free throws from Jamie Waters for an 18-14 score with 4:25 to play.
Waters hit a three in the third quarter for the only St. John field goal. She again proved to be a threat in the fourth quarter. Her first three-pointer with 3:40 remaining got the Tigers within one. With 1:08 to play, following two free throw makes from South junior Eledria Franklin, Waters tied things up at 20 with another triple.
Two missed free throws on the Lady Titan end gave the ball back to St. John for the final 1:20. The Lady Tigers were unable to pull off a game-winner, missing two shots in the final four seconds to send the game to overtime.
Lady Titan junior Madison Northcutt opened scoring in the extra frame with two free throws, but St. John senior Morgan Osborne answered with a three-pointer for the first Lady Tiger lead since a 2-1 score early in the first quarter.
“We wanted to put the ball in their hands,” St. John Coach Danny Smith said of his seniors. “They’re our main players and battlers, and they’ve led us to everything we’ve got right now. We wanted the ball in their hands and they did a great job. I’m just proud of them. We didn’t come out on top, but we’ll get a lot out of this game.”
Two free throws from freshman Kendrian Elliott put the Lady Titans back out in front, then St. John turned the ball over with 45 ticks on the clock. Waters did not give up, getting a steal that resulted in a free throw make and tied score. Waters nearly picked up another steal on the subsequent inbounds, but the ball ended up on the South end.
Then things got a little crazy. Sophomore Kirea Rogers missed a wide-open layup but got her own rebound and was fouled. With 16 seconds to play, she missed both free throw tries. Franklin tracked down a long rebound on the second miss, then made her way under the basket where she made an improbable shot from under the net with 10 seconds remaining.
That would prove to be the game winner as St. John’s game-winning three-point try bounced off the glass as time expired.
After converting just 2-of-7 free throw tries in the fourth quarter, South hit all four shots from the stripe in overtime.
“The fundamentals win games, and fundamentally we have to get better,” said Scales. “We have to knock down shots and be able to make free throws and box out and rebound. That’s basketball 101. We’ll take the win any way we can get it, though. This gives us an opportunity to go back and work on some things and make some adjustments.”
The game marks St. John’s first loss of the season, and was a disappointing end at a chance to upend a much bigger school for a Hoosier-esque type win.
“Basketball is basketball,” Smith said. “I guess that’s easy to say. A couple years ago, when Heights played here, if we had played them we probably wouldn’t have said ‘basketball is basketball.’ We came in and our girls were not afraid of them, didn’t back down, and played hard. I’m just really proud of them. I expected no less from these girls than to battle like that.”
Both sides were reluctant to score early on. In the first four minutes of play, St. John took the only three shots in the game. The sophomore Rogers was the lone player able to consistently find the basket with two first quarter field goals to give South an early 5-2 lead.
Rogers added three more field goals in the second quarter, beginning her night 5-of-6 from the floor. She led all scorers with 13 points.
“For about a week and a half she’s been on a bum ankle,” Scales said.. “She twisted it in practice and hasn’t really been the same since. If we can get her 100 percent, she’s an explosive kid. There are a lot of other kids like Kendrian (Elliott) and Maddy (Northcutt) who really make a difference.”
St. John hit its first six free throw tries in the game, and Teresa Christie sank the squad's first field goal with 17 seconds to play in the half. South still led 12-8 at the break.
“They slow it down,” said Smith. “I saw them do it against Pratt and I was surprised. That was obviously their plan coming into the game and they did a great job. We couldn’t get a shot over them.”
Northcutt finished with five points and a game-high six rebounds for the Lady Titans. Waters paced the Lady Tigers with 12 points. Osborne, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, added seven points and five rebounds.
Consolation: Pratt 38, Maize South 32
The host Greenbacks were able to outlast the Mavs for third place. Pratt (7-5) led 33-20 heading into the final frame, but the offense stalled with just one field goal in the final eight minutes of play. Jenson Maydew’s two free throws with 21 seconds to play resulted in the final score though Pratt converted just 3-of-11 tries from the stripe in the final quarter.
Maydew’s third quarter was equally important for Pratt. The Lady Greenbacks held a 19-12 halftime lead before the junior Maydew scored nine of her team-high 15 points in the quarter. Payton Hoeme also reached double-figures for Pratt with 12 points.
Maize South (5-6) was led in scoring Mariah Suchan’s 15 points. Taylor Mannis finished with five points, and McKenna Poynter scored all of her four points in the second half.
Fifth-place: Wichita North 40, Larned 32
Slow-and-steady meant a win for the Lady Redskins, who leave the tournament with a 2-10 overall record. The squad picked up its first win of the year with a 49-40 win against Chaparral on Friday. Saturday, the girls led 8-6 after one quarter and 20-14 at the half, riding the gap to the finish for the win.
Senior Jaden Dennis led all scorers with 20 points. Terache Wilson finished with seven points, and McKayla Crawford six points in the win.
Larned (3-11) had eight players score in the loss. Tiara Diaz scored six of her eight points in the final quarter, and Jessi Johnson scored four of her eight points in the final frame. Maci Perez and Reagan Quick each contributed four points.
Seventh-place: Chaparral 49, Medicine Lodge 42
Only one team would leave the TOC without a win. The Lady Roadrunner’s used a flurry of late points to erase a 34-33 deficit and improve to 5-8 on the year. Senior Taylor Mathes showed off her leadership with seven of her game-high 17 points coming in the final eight minutes of play. Mathes swished a three and sank all four free throw tries down the stretch.
Chaparral jumped out to a 13-5 lead after one quarter and still led 29-22 at the break. Medicine Lodge (1-12) stormed back with 12 points in the third quarter to take a 34-33 lead. Senior Addie Roe hit three triples and went 4-for-4 at the free throw line to lead the Lady Indians with 13 points. Cassidy Stimpert added 10 points.
Amelia Ballard hit all six of her free throw tries in the second quarter, finishing with 11 points for the Roadrunners. Sydney Wescoat added seven points, and Haley McKee scored six points.