ELLIS, Kan. - WaKeeney-Trego senior Libby Frost wore her familiar unchanging serious expression throughout Thursday’s contest against Belleville-Republic County. Frost realized the Golden Eagles had a 10-point advantage early in the fourth quarter. However, Frost remembered when Trego lost a lead and fell on a buzzer-beating 3 against Thomas More Prep-Marian last season.
Frost fought nerves versus Republic County. She tried to stay calm and looked to shoot or make a good pass. Frost tallied four points and three rebounds during the fourth, including a pair of free throws late that effectively sealed a 46-39 victory in the Class 2A Ellis sub-state semifinals.
“Never stop,” Frost said. “Because last year against TMP we stalled, and we lost. It was a heartbreaker, and so I thought really just as a team we did a good job (Thursday). We made good decisions. We pulled the ball out when we needed to, and we shot layups when we needed to.”
As the final seconds wound down and the game ended, Frost’s demeanor changed. She clapped her hands, delivered a big smile and shouted “yeah!” Overall, Frost delivered a team-high 17 points and seven rebounds. All her numbers coming in the final three quarters.
“A sense of relief,” Frost said. “Like we did it. Because there are so many teams right now that are getting upset, and I don’t want that to be us. So it’s like we have to dogfight in there, knock somebody down – and then help them right back up of course – but just whenever the buzzer went off, it was like ‘Yes, we are back.’
WaKeeney-Trego, the No. 1 seed in the sub-state and ranked third in the final coaches’ poll, bumped to 21-1 and overcame a tough week of injury and sickness. The Golden Eagles never trailed after 3-0, though RC kept it close throughout. The Golden Eagles had missed two free throws inside the final minute of the game. RC senior Sadee Graves misfired a trey from the top of the arc that would have cut the Trego lead to 44-42. Then, Frost was fouled with 25.7 seconds left and made both free throws.
“She’s a senior,” Trego coach Donnie Shubert said of Frost. “It’s do or die. You lose, you go home. She wants to keep playing. She told me she loves this team, she doesn’t want it to end, and that speaks volumes of her. She scored … 17 tonight and guarded their best player, so that speaks volumes about her.”
The Golden Eagles finished fourth in 2A last winter. This year, Trego has set multiple school records, including longest winning streak (15) and most ever wins in the regular season (19). As well, the Golden Eagles are easily on pace to set the program record for scoring defense.
The Golden Eagles will face second-seeded Oakley (17-5) in Saturday’s sub-state championship game. Start time is 6 p.m. at Ellis High School. Trego has defeated the Plainsmen twice this year, though Oakley has won 11 in a row and features senior Jordyn Lowrie, a Tabor College basketball signing.
Frost, a multi-year starter and typically the team’s second-leading scorer behind junior Lili Shubert, helped WaKeeney-Trego overcome a challenging week.
“At first, it was like ‘Man, our team is falling apart,’” Frost said.
Junior Tillie Malinowsky suffered an ankle injury several days ago and missed Monday’s sub-state opening win against Hill City. Sophomore Madison Walt has dealt with sickness and was in foul trouble Thursday. Senior reserve Hannah Kinderknecht was also ill Thursday. The team had a short practice Wednesday with focuses on offense, defense and simply getting healthy.
“The sickness, the injuries, it doesn’t affect us,” Frost said. “Because are doing good right now. This team, I have said it a thousand times, they are my best friends. We have so many jokes, and we have so much fun together. We push each other to be our very best, and I’ve never really been around a group of people that have just wanted each other to succeed so much.”
Republic County, the No. 5 seed, finished 11-11. The Buffs have nine seniors, including Alexis Hansen. She delivered a game-best 20 points. WaKeeney led 11-9 after the first quarter as RC made three treys. Overall, the Buffs shot 6 of 19 from beyond the arc.
“They were phenomenal,” Shubert said. “They are well-coached. They had us scouted well.”
In front a large, loud crowd on both sides, the Golden Eagles held a 27-17 advantage at halftime and bumped the lead to 39-28 entering the fourth.
“It was really intense for sure,” Frost said. “Both crowds were getting into it, and also both teams were. I don’t think we ever played dirty, so that’s really fun. Because it’s just aggressive, and we both want to play so hard the whole time. It’s awesome to play in such a big crowd.”
Frost hit a jumper for a 41-28 lead. However, RC tallied a trey from Hansen to cut the deficit to 41-31 with 6:45 left.
“I was nervous the whole game, like man, we’ve got to go, we’ve got to go, we’ve got to go,” Frost said. “Because if we didn’t, Belleville is a great team.”
WaKeeney led 44-33 with 4:33 left after Walt sunk a trey. However, RC tallied the next six points. The Golden Eagles never scored again until Frost’s late free throws. Lili Shubert, a career 1,000-point scorer, finished with nine points. She and Walt combined for eight rebounds. Gracie Pfannenstiel, the team’s third senior, had six points as Trego held on to win.
“I think we just love each other,” Frost said. “I will always love them. But we have been playing together for so long that I know where Lili is going to be, and I know where Gracie is going to be, and I can tell you what Tillie’s going to do when she gets the ball down low.
“That is so cool, and I feel like my basketball IQ is just getting so much higher now, because I know what these girls are going to do,” she added. “They know what I am going to do, and that’s why we play together so well. And also because we are best friends.”