INMAN, Kan. - Playing as the No. 1 seed and reigning state runner-up in the Class 2A substate in Inman, the Sterling girls were already a heavy favorite in Saturday's championship game against Hutchinson Trinity. Throw in an 84-29 Lady Black Bear win over the Celts in January and the odds get even longer. With a trip to state on the line, however, Trinity battled before coming up short 62-44.
"It's been a goal," said Sterling coach Jill Rowland. "I think we felt a little bit more pressure than we did last year because of our finish. It was a little tougher at times and I think we got tight at times but it was definitely a goal from day one to go back and get another crack at it."
Senior Kinzie Comley battled some early foul trouble to put up five points in the opening frame. Sophomore Makenna Linden took a steal the distance in the waning seconds of the first to put Sterling ahead 11-5 after one.
Junior Kayla Morris got in the mix in quarter two on a pair of assists from Comley. Just like they were drawn up, the duo connected several times throughout the night.
"We worked on that," Rowland said. "Those two were right where we worked on. Kinzie is probably my second-best passer on the team so we specifically wanted that, and Kayla has been finishing so well around the rim. They did exactly what we planned and executed it very well."
Sophomore guard Kali Briar also warmed up in the second quarter with a pair of threes. She connected on six deep balls on the night and led all scorers with 21 points.
"She's an excellent point guard," said Rowland. "Last year I didn't want to start a freshman point guard because you never know how they're going to go if they struggle. From day one this year she was our starting point guard. She averages more minutes than any kid I've got. It's hard to take her out of games."
Still, the Lady Celtics were able to stay within fighting distance most of the night. Senior Sierra Garcia scored five points in the second quarter and junior Hayley Hughes added a three. Trinity trailed 31-17 at the break.
Trinity put up 13 points in the third quarter but Sterling was able to match the pace for a 44-30 score with eight minutes to play. Briar was big in the fourth with two more treys and 10 of her points. Morris added four more points to finish with 15. Sophomore Bennie Horsch came off the bench to finish with 10 points, and Comley finished with nine points, nine rebounds, and five assists.
Garcia, Hughes, and senior Meg Friday each scored 13 points for Trinity. The Lady Celtics end their season at 12-9.
Sterling takes its still-young team back to the Class 2A state tournament, this time in Manhattan, with a 20-2 record. The Lady Black Bears lost only to juggernaut Central Plains and Hugoton this year and have quality wins against the likes of Cheney and Haven.