State bid alludes Baldwin High
Saturday's rubber game against Spring Hill in the Class 4A Sub-State finals took a bad bounce for the Baldwin High School girls.
"No, it didn't bounce our way," said coach Eric Toot of the Bulldogs' 54-46 overtime loss that denied them a trip to the state tournament in Salina. "Where do I start? We had an excellent opportunity and just let it get away at the end.
"It was a great battle between two great teams," said Toot. "We just came up a little short."
BHS had beaten Spring Hill Feb. 18. Earlier in the season, the Broncos handed the Bulldogs their only loss of the regular season in the Eudora tournament in December. That made Saturday's match up the rubber game of the season with everything on the line.
The Bulldogs battled back from a seven-point first-half deficit to take a five-point lead late in the fourth quarter. Trailing 35-30 at the end of the third frame, BHS went on a 14-4 run to open the fourth. During that stretch senior Kayla Pringle had six points, junior Emily Brown four points and senior Anna Skaggs had two.
That put BHS up 42-39 with 1:20 remaining. Spring Hill then missed a pair of free throws and Brown knocked down both ends of a one-and-one for a 43-39 lead with 53 seconds left. At that point many in the huge throng of Bulldog fans had thoughts turning to Salina and state. Toot didn't.
"Against a great team, I wasn't going to be comfortable until the buzzer sounded," he said.
From there, it all went downhill. BHS fouled a Bronco putting up an off-balanced 3-point shot, which resulted in three made free throws to cut the lead to two. The Bulldogs then missed a pair of free throws at the 40-second mark and Spring Hill tied it up with an inside shot with 16 seconds left. BHS called two time-outs to set up the last shot, but it didn't fall and sent the game into overtime.
There, Spring Hill scored eight straight points to put the game away. The Broncos used a 16-of-23 to 11-of-22 advantage at the free throw line to make most of the difference.
"Yes, they did," Toot said of the Broncos converting free throws, especially big ones. "That was pretty much the difference in the game. We struggled with free throws from the beginning. Against a team like that, you've got to have them and we just didn't convert as many as we needed to."
There certainly was plenty of effort. The comeback from the seven-point deficit showed that.
"Our girls played as hard as they possible could. They never quit," he said. "As a coach, that's what you look for. If you can get them to play hard, that's all you can ask. That's been all year, not just Saturday. They battled back from some tough circumstances."
The loss ended the season for BHS with a sparkling 20-2 record, with both losses coming at the hands of the Broncos. During the last two years, BHS has only had six losses and five of them were to Spring Hill, including last year's sub-state final. The Bulldogs did beat them in Frontier League play to become undefeated league champs this year.
"I just hope for our girls, and especially the seniors, that they look back on the year and not just this game," said Toot. "It was an outstanding season. They accomplished a lot. I think we're definitely one of the top three of four teams in the state."
Unfortunately, when the state tournament begins Wednesday in Salina, BHS won't be there to prove it.
"It's my opinion that the association (KSHSAA) needs to make some changes in how sub-states are determined," he said. "You'd like to think they get all the best teams in the state at the tournament. They need to work it out somehow so there's a better chance of that. I just don't understand why we have to seed in November.
"I'm not talking just Baldwin Bulldogs, but all teams," Toot said. "Burlington and Iola played Saturday night in the Ottawa sub-state and each of them just had one loss."
Maybe that will happen next year as finally happened this year with the state football playoffs being expanded. But, maybe not. Whatever, the Bulldogs will try it again next year without the services of seniors Skaggs, Pringle and Katie Martin.
"I can't say enough about my seniors," he said. "I thought they had outstanding careers. They won 80 games from the time they were freshmen through seniors. But, more importantly, they are just outstanding young ladies and will accomplish a lot in whatever they do. Hopefully they'll have fond memories of this year because they accomplished a lot."
They'll also remember the community support showed Saturday night as the stands were packed with Bulldog faithful.
"I thought the crowd was great," said Toot. "I actually thought our crowd was louder, more enthusiastic and better than theirs. It was a great crowd. They certainly got their money's worth. Two great teams, a great crowd and a super atmosphere -- that's what high school athletics is all about. It was great to be a part of it."
The scoring from Saturday showed where the team goes from here. Brown led the way with 18 points and Skaggs wasn't far behind with 13. Brown will be back; Skaggs will move onto college.
"We need time to recover from Saturday night," said Toot. "Obviously we have a lot of good players coming back for next year. I'm confident they'll dow what it takes to get better over the summer, not just in basketball but all sports. That's what's great about these girls, they do all sports.
"Hopefully next year we'll be playing on Saturday night again with a chance to go to state," he said.