Tongie girls win battle royale
Outcome in question for three quarters as Lions hang tough
Tonganoxie If you want to know what the No.9-ranked Lansing High girls basketball game against No. 3 Tonganoxie was all about Friday night, ignore the fact that the final score was 69-47 in favor of the Chieftains.
Judging by that score, you'd probably think the game really had been a boring, start-to-finish snoozer. That couldn't be any further from the truth.
If you want to know what this game was all about, forget the 22-point margin of victory. All you need to know is that Tonganoxie was up 46-40 at the end of the third quarter thanks to a three-pointer at the buzzer by Christy Weller.
Why is that important? Because it was Weller's trey that finally allowed Tonganoxie (15-1 overall, 9-0 Kaw Valley League) to break free from Lansing. It was Weller's bomb from beyond the arc that served as the knockout blow after Tongie had tried to pull away time and again to no avail. Until she sank that shot, nobody in the THS gymnasium had any idea who would go home with a victory.
For three quarters it was that close between the first- and second-place teams in the Kaw Valley League.
"Our focus was there. Our intensity was there. Our motivation was there. We just ran out of gas too fast," senior Rachel Darrow said. "For three quarters we were amazing. We stuck with them the whole time. It's just that fourth quarter got us."
In many ways, Friday's game was a league championship showdown. Tonganoxie was undefeated in the league. Lansing had just one league loss, a 60-43 setback on Jan. 3. The teams were ranked 1-2 in the standings, and a THS victory likely would assure the Chieftains a second straight KVL championship. A LHS victory would forge a two-way tie at the top.
Under the spotlight of increased media attention - the game was televised in Lawrence on 6News as the cable channel's area Game of the Week - the two KVL heavyweights slugged it out in a back-and-forth battle for three quarters.
Tonganoxie looked to star point guard Ali Pistora right away as she scored the game's first points. Darrow answered with a bank shot. A leaner by Pistora put THS back on top, but Darrow answered with a three-pointer that gave LHS a 5-4 lead with 5 minutes, 28 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The Chieftains spent the next five minutes unleashing one of their trademark first-quarter runs. They used a 12-2 run to build a nine-point advantage.
"I think it's definitely easier not to get behind," senior Nichole Twitchel said. "We've been trying to work on getting going early instead of picking it up later."
The Lions (11-5, 8-2) weathered the early storm, regrouped and answered. After falling behind 22-12 early in the second quarter, a steal by freshman Brittney Lang led to a layup by Twitchel. That sparked an 11-2 run over the next four minutes. A three-pointer by Darrow at the 3:43 mark pulled the Lions within 24-23. They had numerous chances to take the lead before halftime, but they turned the ball over on four of their last five possessions. That allowed the Chieftains to take a 29-27 lead into the break.
Lansing came out focused and ready to fire in the third quarter. Twitchel drove to the bucket for a layup on the first possession and tied the game at 29-29. A pull-up jumper by Pistora put Tonganoxie back on top, but Twitchel answered with a floater at the other end. An 18-footer by Kelley Stauch put Tongie ahead again, but Darrow responded by sinking a 16-footer that tied the game midway through the quarter.
The call-and-answer game continued as Pistora converted a three-point play and Rachel Bogard scored on a layup, only to have Morgan Chiles score a three-point play of her own at the other end to cut Tongie's lead to 38-36. Pistora sank another jumper, and Darrow answered back with a turnaround jumper to make it 40-38 with 1:50 left in the third quarter.
Finally it looked like Tonganoxie was going to pull away when Pistora sank a three-pointer after two straight misses from Bogard, but a layup by Twitchel with 12 seconds left in the quarter made it 43-40. Lansing was tired and weary, but it still was showing plenty of fight.
Then came Weller's dagger. With time running out, the ball was kicked out to Weller on the right wing. Just as her older sister - 2005 THS graduate Madison Weller - did throughout her career, Weller swished a game-changing three-pointer.
"It was 43-40, and then she drops that," LHS coach Keith Andrews said. "Their outside game hadn't hurt us. They got their shots off layups and free throws. That shot was big. It was a big momentum swing."
Tonganoxie outscored Lansing 23-7 during a fourth quarter that differed completely from the way the first three quarter were played. Fatigue played a part in it, and Andrews admitted his squad hit the wall after the third quarter. Plus, Lansing began to lose focus when Tongie finally opened up the late lead. The result was a few sloppy turnovers that led to easy baskets. THS made its final eight field goal tries of the game, including a three-pointer at the buzzer by Pistora.
Although the Lions didn't emerge from Friday's game with a win, senior forward Amanda Radovich said they were proud of the way they played for the first three quarters. It was the best basketball they'd played since beating the Bonner Springs Bravettes in early January, and it was a step forward.
"When we were in the locker room (before the game), we told them 'Don't worry about the cameras. This is the league championship game. Just go out and give it everything you have,'" Radovich said. "We were so focused for three quarters and we gave it everything we had. It just didn't work out in the end.
"We wanted to prove to people that we are worth our state ranking. We've earned our record and we're better than some people think we are. I think we proved that for the first three quarters. Unfortunately we didn't finish."
Pistora led Tonganoxie with a game-high 19 points. Rachel Bogard scored 10, Elizabeth Baska had nine, Rebecca Bogard and Stauch tallied eight apiece and Tracie Hileman added seven for the Chieftains.
Darrow led Lansing with 16 points, Twitchel had 15 and Radovich added 10. Morgan Chiles scored five points off the bench and Katie Nietzke chipped in one.
Lansing next plays at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday when it travels to Bishop Ward.