Central Plains makes it seven straight in 1A, Div. II battle
GREAT BEND, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - It took a pandemic to pause Central Plains’ quest for a seventh-consecutive state title last March, and it took the loss of a talented senior class to halt the team’s 138-game win streak. Still, the Lady Oilers know how to win state titles. Saturday at Barton Community College, Central Plains outlasted Cunningham 39-35 to capture that elusive seventh-straight championship, this time in Class 1A, Div. II.
“At the beginning of the year I knew we would surprise some people,” said Lady Oiler coach Pat Stiles. “I knew how good we could possibly be. We just got better and better throughout the year. The last fourth of the season, and through the playoffs, we just played extremely well.”
Central Plains had to work for the seventh title, trailing by as many as seven points midway through the first quarter. Cunningham led 14-11 after eight minutes but managed just 11 points over the next 16 minutes against the Lady Oiler triangle-and-two defense designed to slow down Wildcat senior Morgan Meyers and sophomore Reese McGuire.
“The craziest thing about that is the last five minutes of practice we put that in just for something else to fall back on,” Stiles said.
Central Plains leveled the score at 17 points by halftime, then took its first lead early in the third quarter on a basket from junior Kassidy Nixon. Nixon added another bucket before Meyers hit another of her long threes for a 21-20 score.
Cunningham tied things up at 22 on a basket from senior Maddi Panek down low but the Lady Oilers finished the frame strong. Sophomore Brynna Hammeke swished a three, then Nixon took a steal coast to coast for an old-fashioned 3-point play. Central Plains led 31-25 with a quarter to play.
Then the stall began, but not by design. The Lady Oilers took to long possessions, several of which turned into turnovers. Meyers capitalized on one turnover with free throws and a 33-31 score with 3:59 remaining.
“I wanted them to still attack the basket,” Stiles said. “With these guys it seems like we either attack, or there’s no in between. It ended up being a stall but we didn’t mean it to be.”
The Lady Wildcats nearly took the lead on a McGuire 3-point try but that rimmed off. Instead, Lady Oiler senior Jennah Jeffrey found Nixon under the basket to boost the lead to 37-31. Jeffrey stepped to the line with 14 ticks left and iced the game with a pair of free throws.
“Once upon a time at the Knights of Columbus Free Throw competition, I shot on this court and made 24 out of 25,” Jeffrey said. “I walk up to the line every time and tell myself I’m a free throw shooter.”
Cunningham got a late basket from senior Alayna McGuire but it was too little, too late. Jeffrey stepped to the line once more with just two seconds on the clock. Her first shot rimmed off and the final horn sounded.
“It gets better every time,” Jeffrey said of the team’s seventh-straight and her third championship in four years. “It’s just an awesome way to end my career, to go out on a win.”
Before Central Plains locked down defensively, Meyers and Reese McGuire had a field day in the opening eight minutes. Meyers knocked down a pair of threes and scored eight of her game-high 15 points in the period. McGuire hit a three and scored five of her seven points in the quarter.
Panek was also huge in the first half with eight rebounds, including a putback that tied things up just before the half. She finished with five points and eight boards, and Madie McGuire also scored five points. Cunningham finishes the season at 23-3.
Nixon filled her stat sheet for Central Plains with 14 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Hammeke, who had averaged 27.5 points in her first two state games, added 13 points and six rebounds. Jeffrey finished with nine points, and senior Lexi Oeser hit a big 3-pointer in the first quarter for her total. Central Plains finishes the year at 23-3.
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