Basehor-Linwood girls advance to substate finals
Team defeats St. James Academy
For parts of the first half in Basehor-Linwood's second round substate game against St. James Academy the Bobcats had the look of a staggered champ fighting back a flurry of body shots from the underdog.
The Thunder came out attacking on offense; pressing and trapping on defense, and generally gave the look of a team with nothing to lose.
The aggressiveness confounded the usually unflappable Bobcats. It took a big BLHS fourth quarter to shut down St. James Academy.
At one point in the second quarter, the Thunder led 18-10. A late flurry before halftime allowed BLHS to take a 26-25 lead into the break. The Lady 'Cats took a 40-38 lead into the fourth quarter before distancing themselves for good.
"It's like we told the girls-be extremely proud of what you've done. At this point of the season, a win's a win," coach Noah Simpson said. "We went into the locker room after the game and some of (the players) were like, 'Ugh, we didn't play that well.' It doesn't matter. A win's a win. If you win, you move on. A loss, you go home."
Cassie Lombardino said the team wasn't expecting St. James to use full court pressure so extensively. She said once BLHS made halftime adjustments and began to run the pressbreak more effectively, the game swung in their favor.
While the game was in Spring Hill, it certainly appeared as though Basehor-Linwood was the home team. The team filled a large portion of their side of the gym while St. James fans were sparsely sprinkled on their half. BLHS was the only side with cheerleaders.
Despite the more-comfortable-than-usual atmosphere on what should have been a neutral site, the Basehor-Linwood didn't settle down until after halftime. In the first quarter, after a particularly galling start, Simpson called a timeout with St. James leading 9-4. The coach lit into his team.
"I was irritated," Simpson said. "Everything that we had gone over yesterday, we weren't executing. We wanted our posts to stay low and they were coming high. We wanted to drive the baseline and we were going right into the middle and turning it over. We were doing things opposite of what we had just gone over yesterday in practice. I was frustrated with how we were executing the game plan. We were playing St. James's style of basketball. I told them, 'Just play our style of basketball. That's what got us here."
It was clear adjustments had to be made and Simpson went to his bench. Bren Koontz and Megan Bergstrom played substantial minutes. Starter Courtney Hooks played sparingly and usual key bench player Megan O'Bryan almost not at all.
"Really, they were adjustments that had to be made," Simpson said. "Bren and Megan (Bergstrom) flat out stood up and played basketball. If it wasn't for Megan in the second quarter, there is no telling what that score would have been at halftime.
"Bren gave us another ball handler and someone who would attack their zone. Keeping Bren in there was going to be a key to our success. She is such a fire starter; she flat out gets after it. We needed someone to go out there and punch them back. I figured the longer we kept her out there the more the rest of the team would play like she was and get us back to our style."
Bergstrom ended with nine points and Koontz had eight. Brooke Sanders and Ashley Jeannin added nine and seven, respectively.
St. James was led by Mica Spradlin, who scored 15 points.
The Thunder employed a curious offensive strategy. Despite being severely disadvantaged in size, the tallest player that scored a point for SJA was 5-foot-9-inch, the team continually drove into the heart of the BLHS defense and attacked the interior trio of Basehor's defense.
"I think it was probably a good strategy because we play pressure man to man and we are into the ball handler," Simpson said. "But we know if teams drive, we have people inside who are going to block shots. For St. James, it worked in the first half. We did a better job in the second half of helping when they would drive-stepping further over and taking their lanes away; blocking shots or getting rebounds when they missed."
The strategy resulted in many blocked shots, but SJA was also able to get Lombardino in foul trouble. The senior was shuttled in and out of the game starting in the second quarter, but never fouled out, finishing with four. Lombardino, who still had 19 points, was mildly confused by the tactic.
"I think when they are attacking, they wanted to get a shot off or get a foul call and get us in foul trouble," Lombardino said. "I was kind of surprised because they kept coming in there, but I understood why."
Lombardino said she was able to take advantage of the shorter SJA defenders when she wasn't double teamed. That wasn't often, however, as the Lady Thunder played Lombardino physical and often sent waves of defenders at her when she caught the ball. She was able to score many of her points off of second chance opportunities.
The win propelled the Lady 'Cats into Saturday Championship Game. Tip off is set for 6 p.m.