Bulldog girls fall just short
It was almost and a half for the Baldwin High School girls in the sub-state finals against No. 1-ranked Spring Hill. But, almost slipped away and the Bulldogs fell 54-44 to end the season in Mill Valley Saturday night.
Through guts and determination, the Bulldogs fought through a dreadful offensive performance to stay close to the top-ranked Broncos throughout. Down by as many as 13 points, BHS clawed and scratched back within three with just 51 seconds left, thanks in part to a steal off the press and a layup by senior Jodie Bacon.
But, that's where it fell apart for good. On the next time down the court, Spring Hill broke the press and Bacon reached for a steal past half court. A foul was called, but it was the most dreaded of all an intentional foul. That gave Spring Hill two free throws and the ball back. It started a stretch of eight free throws that sealed the victory for the Broncos.
"As soon as that call was made, the game was over," said coach Eric Toot, declining to comment on whether the call should have been made. "It didn't cost us the game, but that was the final straw."
Spring Hill hit seven of those eight free throws to nail down the final 10-point advantage and move on to the Class 4A State Tournament. But, the Broncos didn't make it there without a fight.
Both teams struggled offensively in the first half. Spring Hill led 16-10 after the first quarter. The struggle intensified in the second quarter and the Broncos could only muster a 6-4 advantage to lead 22-14 at halftime. In fact, BHS was scoreless in the quarter until sophomore post Emily Brown hit a follow shot with 2:17 left. Senior guard Colleen Kivett knocked down a 5-footer with 45 seconds left to round out the scoring.
It was more of the same in the third frame for BHS. Spring Hill built a 12-point lead, but the Bulldogs battled back with a pair of 3-pointers, one by junior guard Kayla Pringle and another by Brown. But, the Broncos continued to pull away and had their biggest margin of the night at the end of the quarter at 37-24.
Brown started BHS on a rally with a 12-footer at the 5:44 mark. Bacon followed with a pair of free throws and junior swing-player Anna Skaggs added a 10-footer 30 seconds later. Kivett closed out the 8-0 run with a pair of free throws. Spring Hill finally answered, but then Skaggs converted an old-fashioned three-point play with a follow shot and the ensuing free throw to cut the margin to 41-36 at the three-minute mark.
Missed free throws and shots by BHS helped Spring Hill regain the advantage at 47-36 with only 1:36 remaining. The Bulldogs weren't done yet. Brown tossed in another 3-pointer from the top of the key. The press then forced a five-second call to regain possession. Brown hit a follow shot, was fouled and converted the free throw. That's when Bacon came up with her steal and layup that cut it to three at 47-44 with 51 seconds left.
That's also where the rally died, thanks in large part to the intentional foul, which was the second in as many nights whistled against a BHS team in the last minute of a sub-state game. The boys had a similar situation the night before, although the game was pretty much over by then.
For the girls, their third loss of the season to Spring Hill (they only had four losses total for the year) came on a night where the offense just wasn't there until the end.
"We just struggled offensively the whole game, but they had a lot to do with that defensively. They're big, quick and strong," said Toot. "We tried some different things and they didn't work. I'll take the blame for that. We had some looks at shots that we normally make, but they didn't go in. We also turned the ball over too much.
"Defensively, we were real good. They struggled offensively, too," he said. "We came out and got after them and it seemed to work. We just didn't capitalize on some things. We missed some free throws and some layups and you can't do that against a great team. I was really happy with our effort. We played good defense and we didn't give up. We had some opportunities, but we didn't take advantage of them."
There's a reason Spring Hill spent a lot of the season as the No. 1-ranked team and BHS got to see it three times.
"They give us problems that no other team can," said Toot. "They can pressure us like no one else can and they did that Saturday night. Three of our four losses were to them, so that tells you something."
It also points to the high-quality basketball in this area. Along with Spring Hill, Ottawa (the other team to beat BHS) also advanced to the state tourney. Anderson County, the only team to beat Ottawa this season, was in the sub-state with the Cyclones. Plus, Santa Fe Trail was another top-ranked team but couldn't advance past Topeka Hayden in the other area sub-state.
"We can't control our sub-state pairings," Toot said of being placed with Spring Hill. "This is where all the good teams are. You're going to have a tough sub-state around here no matter where you go."
Brown topped the BHS scoring with 15 points and was joined in double digits by Bacon with 12. To reach the finals, the Bulldogs had to fight off a stiff challenge by Kansas City Ward in the semifinals. BHS held on for a 51-43 win. Kivett had a game-high 21 points and Skaggs had 13.
The season-ending action left BHS with an enviable 19-4 record.
"I'm real happy with the season," said Toot. "We had a great season, but our goal was to get to Salina and we fell short. Overall, it was a great season. Ninety-nine percent of the teams would love have only four losses."
For seniors Kivett, Bacon, Casey Millstein and Nicki Frerking, it's over. Toot appreciated their many contributions during the four years. He's also looking to the future.
"I enjoyed coaching the seniors. They had a great career and we will miss them," said Toot. "I do have confidence in next year's players. I think we'll be a different style of team, creating shots off the dribble. We'll still be a good team. I honestly think we'll be real good for several years. We've got good underclassmen coming up and a good eighth-grade class coming up."