RUSSELL, Kan. - Smith Center’s Nick Linn is one of Kansas’ highly successful girls’ basketball coaches. He has coached three decades and won a state title with the Lady Red. Linn has had Division I talent on his roster and faced some of the state’s best players.
On Thursday, Linn and Smith Center played Claflin-Central Plains junior point guard Emily Ryan for the first time. Ryan delivered 28 points and five assists as the Oilers captured a 57-26 victory in the Amos Morris tournament semifinals at Russell High School.
Central Plains, the five-time defending state champions with just one loss since the start of the ’13-14, won its 87th straight contest.
“You are not going to see a player like what they have,” Linn said. “You are not going to see that but once in a blue moon, and in my 30 years, I have probably seen, at that level, probably two or three like that. There’s been other really good players, but not to that extreme, I don’t think.”
Ryan enjoyed her strong supporting cast with key performances from junior Rachel Lamatsch and senior Avery Hurley.
CP, ranked No. 1 in Class 1A, moved to 3-0 and into Saturday’s finals in a rematch versus Phillipsburg, a contest that has mixed emotions for the 2-1 Panthers.
Central Plains beat Phillipsburg, 71-19, in the first round, but the squads play again because of the six-team bracket.
“They are in a league of their own,” Phillipsburg coach Rachel Miller said. “Just a great team, probably one of the best teams I think Central Plains has had. They have had a lot of individual talent, but that’s a high quality well-rounded team.”
Smith Center, which vaulted from No. 10 to No. 4 in this week’s new Class 2A rankings, dropped to 2-1. The Lady Red returned four starters.
This marked the third time SC had played Central Plains. On Jan. 5, 2016, the Oilers defeated the Lady Red, 58-33. On Jan. 6, 2015, CP won 45-23.
“They win by big margins,” Linn said. “What makes them tough is she just makes every other player better, and you can tell that they work in the offseason.”
On their own, Ryan, Lamatsch, Hurley and sophomore Jennah Jeffrey, among others, come in before school at 6:30 a.m. and practice until 7:45 a.m. on the shooting gun. At night, Ryan generally leaves at 7:30 p.m. and shoots again.
“She is a maniac when it comes to working out,” CP coach Pat Stiles said of Ryan.
The practice helped Ryan tally 14 straight points in the first quarter against the bigger Lady Red. The 5-foot-2 Hurley also enjoyed a big game with 16 points and four rebounds.
“We are trying to get in the morning a lot, so that has really helped my confidence being a leader on the court,” Hurley said.
Central Plains’ three tallest players are 5-11 junior Addison Crites, 5-10 senior Rylee Cunningham and Ryan, also 5-10. No one is 5-8 or 5-9.
Smith Center counters with 6-foot freshman Tallon Reutschler, who had a double-double off the bench in a season-opening victory versus Plainville last Friday and moved into the starting lineup versus the Oilers.
Junior Lizzy Pformiller is 5-10, along with senior Bier Frieling. Three other players are 5-9, and senior Gracen Hutchinson is 5-8. Smith Center led 2-0 after 20 seconds on a basket from Hutchinson (team-high 10 points).
“That kind of created problems early,” CP coach Pat Stiles said of the Lady Red’s height. “A lot of our passes got deflected, and had some turnovers, but I think once we adjusted to their athleticism and how big they were, things went well for us, but yeah, there for awhile, we couldn’t make a pass, we were turning the ball over. But our defense was great tonight. We defended so well.”
Ryan found Hurley for a trey and a 3-2 advantage. Then, CP, helped by its turnover creation and Ryan’s ability, quickly led 17-6 behind a flurry of points. Ryan, who averaged 35 points a game last season and was Kansas Player of the Year, scored in a variety of ways.
She bumped the lead to 5-2 at the 5:22 mark off a steal and full court layup.
“We always know for us to get out and run, we’ve got to get stops and rebounds,” Stiles said.
Then, off a defensive rebound, Ryan delivered a give-a-go with Lamatsch for a 7-2 advantage.
Lamatsch didn’t score, but contributed with four rebounds and five assists and six steals.
“Defensively, she just applies so much pressure on the other (team),” Stiles said of Lamatsch. “And then, anytime a post gets it, she is digging at the ball.”
They did another give-and-go from a 9-4 lead, and Lamatsch found Ryan for a trey and an eight-point lead. SC had nine first quarter turnovers and 30 for the game.
“We had dreams of coming away tonight and making a statement,” Linn said. “But we also knew that stars had to line up and it had to be a really, really good game, and the part that we didn’t do well at all … We didn’t handle pressure, like especially trying to get into any kind of half court set.”
Ryan, quiet off the court, displays a vocal presence with her team. She remains positive after turnovers and will usually go to each girl after a mistake. Even in practice, Ryan has sometimes yelled out the play the opposition runs.
“In the locker room, she is constantly hyping us up, and even out on the court, you can see that, but in the locker room especially, she is always pumping us up,” Hurley said.
Late third quarter, Ryan had the ball at the point as the Oilers milked the clock down. Stiles wanted to run a specific play. However, Ryan, while dribbling, asked Stiles, “Do you want to show that?” Stiles agreed with Ryan, and CP didn’t run the play.
“Talking to her off the court, she is really quiet,” Stiles said. “When we get on a basketball court, she is amazing.”
Phillipsburg gets rematch with Central Plains
Phillipsburg won one contest two years ago and five last winter with young players and injury-plagued seasons.
On Thursday, the Panthers trailed by eight in the third quarter but came back to defeat Plainville in a slight upset, 42-41. Phillipsburg ended a three-game losing streak versus the Cardinals and moved to 2-1 this season.
The Panthers were seeded sixth and the Cardinals fifth. Phillipsburg senior Alexi Beach delivered 11 points, including several key baskets. She is the Panthers’ top defender and helped contain Plainville junior point guard Aubree Dewey to 20 points.
Dewey averaged 22 points a game last year and had 30 in each of the first two contests this winter. Plainville dropped to 1-2.
“We played really well as a team,” Beach said. “We kind of handled ourself in these situations. Last year, we kind of had a rougher year. We have been here, we have done that, and I am really proud of how we handled ourselves.”
Miller called the bracket “a little weird” since the Panthers have lost a game, won a contest and can still play for the title.
“I understand they have to do what they have to do, because there’s only six teams,” Miller said. “It’s disappointing, because you would like to see different teams. At the same time, everybody you see here is a good team, and so you know you are going to get better playing these good teams, and hopefully we can give them a better game the second time around.”
Beach has enjoyed learning from Central Plains.
“I am excited,” Beach said. “They are great competition, and it’s great to see how they work, and just like getting little key details that they do, and incorporating it into our team, and hopefully we will see us do those things.”
Junior Emily Schneider led the Panthers with 14 points, mainly on drives. Both Beach and Schneider were among those who had battled injuries in the past.
She tied the game and then sunk a free throw for a 35-34 lead with 5:15 left in the contest.
“I finally got on her and told her to get to the basket,” Miller said. “She is very capable of that. She does a lot of really nice things in practice, and I think she gained a lot of confidence doing that tonight.”
Beach pushed the lead to three points when the Panthers got an offensive rebound off a missed free throw.
“I told the girls, ‘We didn’t lose it in the fourth quarter, we lost it in the third quarter,’” Plainville coach Kate Bremerman said. “And that’s kind of a tough pill to swallow when you have such a nice lead.”
Dewey had two baskets late and cut the deficit to 42-41. With 3.9 seconds left, she drove inside on the right side, but her shot bounced off the rim.
Beach missed two free throws, but Dewey’s last-second heave came up well short. Phillipsburg was 4 of 13 on free throws, Plainville 3 of 12.
“We were kind of weaker, I think, and now we have confidence,” Beach said. “We trust ourselves. We trust our teammates, and I think that came from a lot of work before this obviously, chemistry during the summer, working together, and I think we have a really nice team atmosphere.”