HAYS, Kan. In the first half, Thomas More Prep-Marian scored just 17 points and led by five against Oakley. Coach Rose McFarland believed her team played tight, tentative and were “a little scared” to go inside versus Plainsmen junior Jordyn Lowrie.
Known for her blocks, Lowrie had delivered multiple big defensive games earlier this season, including against TMP and Smith Center.
In the third quarter, the Monarchs were relaxed and loose. TMP pushed the pace, shot the ball well and had lockdown pressure defense.
The Monarchs built a 17-point lead entering the fourth quarter and delivered a 42-27 victory Tuesday night in a Mid-Continent League quarterfinal contest at Al Billinger Fieldhouse.
“We amped up the defense, pressure,” McFarland said. “They didn’t really get the ball down the floor and get a lot of good looks, and our transition game was a lot better, so we got layups, and we started hitting some outside shots.”
TMP, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, had contributions throughout the roster, earned its fifth straight victory and moved to 7-3.
The Monarchs have captured 40 straight MCL regular season/midseason league tournament games. Oakley, the No. 6 seed, dropped to 5-5. TMP defeated Oakley, 45-37, at home on Dec. 14.
“It feels good,” senior Emily Schippers said of continuing the tournament success. “Have some shoes to fill, but that’s OK.”
In one of the more intriguing midseason tournaments, TMP will face No. 2 Norton, now ranked No. 9 in Class 3A and still undefeated against Kansas schools, in the MCL semifinals.
Top-seeded WaKeeney-Trego, ranked No. 6 in Class 2A, has only lost once, on a buzzer-beater trey versus TMP last week. The tournament semifinals and finals will be at WaKeeney. Currently, the semifinals are scheduled for Friday, but weather could move the contests.
Senior Jillian Lowe had a game-high 18 points, and junior Adell Riedel tallied 10. Lowe again played outstanding defense with six steals. Oakley had 16 turnovers, all in the first three quarters.
Schippers filled the stat sheet and collected five points, five rebounds, three steals, two blocks and two assists.
Freshman Emilee Lane passed well out of the post and finished with six points, five rebounds and three assists and took a charge. Sophomore Kyleigh Allen, whom McFarland called “so quick” and “much improved,” tallied three assists and pair of steals.
Schippers and Lowe, the lone seniors, are versatile enough to play both outside and inside.
“They are a very balanced team,” Oakley coach Mike Zimmerman said of TMP. “They have got some good post players, of course Lowe and Riedel out front. … The Schippers girl, they have got some good ball handlers that can shoot out there. The freshman (Lane) is a very athletic girl.”
Additionally, McFarland received solid bench minutes from several players, including 6-2 sophomore post Sasha Wasinger, junior Kallyn DeWitt, sophomore guard Abby Rueschhoff and freshman guard Megan Hamel, who hit a late 3. The Monarchs limited Oakley to just 5 of 20 shooting in the first three quarters.
“If we can run, and our bench against their bench, I like that, too,” McFarland said.
TMP never trailed and led 8-4 early behind nice passing from Lane. However, Oakley cut the deficit to 10-9 at the end of the first quarter.
Lowrie led with eight points, four in the first quarter, along with three rebounds and three blocks. In the second quarter, though, TMP had just seven shot attempts versus Oakley’s slower-paced zone.
“The start of the game, we were doing that, passing it in, looking for our other cutter, kicking it to the outside,” McFarland said. “And then we just kind of went away from that and quit doing that.”
The Plainsmen have permitted just 32.1 points per contest, one of 2A’s top scoring defenses. Oakley has allowed more than 40 points just three times, twice to TMP and once to Norton.
“They have a very extended zone, which normally we always look for shooters on the outside, so it forces us to focus more on the inside game rather than the outside,” Schippers said.
After intermission, the Monarchs had an early free throw from Allen. Then, Schippers had a block that led to a Lowe basket and a 20-12 lead.
“Third quarter, I think they just relaxed and ramped up the defensive pressure, and it got our offense going,” McFarland said.
By the 3:41 mark of the third quarter, TMP had picked up three steals and Lowe forced a five-second call on Oakley junior point guard Danielle Allison.
McFarland stressed not fouling. In the third, Oakley went 1 of 8 from the field and didn’t shoot a free throw. The Plainsmen struggled against the Monarchs’ run and jump, which Zimmerman said is “hard” to replicate in practice.
“They really started pressuring Danielle at the point right there, and I thought there were some times where we were just indecisive,” Zimmerman said. “Once the trap came to Danielle, that we weren’t really sure what to do after that. And that’s probably a lot on me, because I was more concerned just getting the ball across half court.”
With two minutes left in the third, Schippers sunk a trey for a 25-12 that capped an 8-0 second-half run. The Monarchs led 31-14 entering the fourth quarter and led by double figures the rest of the way.
“This year, I have tried to shoot more rather than to pass it off,” Schippers said. “Because there are times when someone does have to step up and take that shot rather than continue the offense, so I just kind of have to pick and choose.”