Clock struck midnight
The cinderella story for the Baldwin High School girls basketball team ended Saturday night in a 57-29 loss to Iola in the sub-state championship, after it beat Spring Hill the night before to qualify for the finals.
On Friday night, Baldwin once again faced Spring Hill in sub-state. Spring Hill has knocked Baldwin out of sub-state the past three years, but Baldwin got its revenge on Friday, winning 46-40.
"It felt great to beat them after they knocked us out the past three years," junior Ellie Meinen said. "I don't know if many people expected us to win, but we never gave up on ourselves."
Coach Eric Toot said it felt good to finally beat the Broncos in a sub-state game, even though the teams have changed through the years.
"I won't lie to you, it's nice to beat them because we've had some heart-breaking losses to them," Toot said. "But these are two different teams. It does feel good because it does say Spring Hill on their jerseys. Our kids deserve it, and they weren't a part of those losses."
Both teams came out with lots of energy, but neither team could score much the first quarter. Sophomore Kelsey Verhaeghe hit a jumpshot as time ran out in the quarter to take a 9-6 lead.
The Bulldogs opened their lead to five in the second quarter, before Spring Hill went on a 13-3 run to close the quarter. Spring Hill led 21-16 at halftime.
"We came out fired up, but we lost a little focus in the second quarter," Meinen said. "We came out strong in the second half, which paid off in the end."
Baldwin caught up in the third quarter and only trailed 31-30 heading into the final quarter of play.
Both teams answered the other team during the fourth quarter. But Baldwin took a slight lead with two minutes to go. Meinen and Verhaeghe made most of Baldwin's free throws down the stretch to secure the victory.
"We had great poise by everybody on the floor," Toot said. "We got the ball to the right people, and Ellie and Kelsey stepped up and knocked down their free throws. It's really hurt us in the past, but tonight we knocked them down."
Verhaeghe was the only Bulldog that scored in double figures with 15 points. Meinen added eight points, while senior Katie Krysztof put up seven. Junior Denise Orloff scored six points, and fellow juniors Katelyn Miles and Amy Craig each added five.
The Bulldogs only hit 12 of 42 shots, including one of 12 from behind the arc. But they did make 23 of 31 free throws in the win.
After the game, Toot said he was happy to advance to the sub-state finals against Iola.
"At this point, you just want to continue playing," Toot said. "That's what the best part about this time of year is."
The Bulldogs had knocked off the No. 2 seed Prairie View and No. 3 seed Spring Hill. But their next challenge was No. 1 seed Iola, which entered the game 21-1.
Baldwin couldn't continue its streak of knocking off higher seeds as it fell to Iola 57-29, taking sub-state runner up for the third time in the last four years.
"Their press just took us out of everything we wanted to do," Toot said. "I thought we handled their press well, but because of their size, we were never able to attack it and get easy baskets against it."
Baldwin hung close in the first quarter and only trailed 13-8. Iola started to open the game up in the second quarter and led 28-17 at halftime.
"I thought we came out well, and were playing good solid defense," Toot said. "We got some good looks at the basket against a very tough defense, with a lot of athleticism and length."
The third quarter saw the beginning of the end for the Bulldogs. Iola started the second half with a 10-0 run, and its pressure forced Baldwin turnovers.
Baldwin cleared its bench in the fourth quarter and Verhaeghe hit a three as time ran out, but it was way too little, way too late.
"In the second half, their size just wore us down, and we weren't able to get enough easy shots," Toot said. "It's hard on a team when you have to struggle to get any basket. We didn't get any easy baskets. And over 32 minutes, its hard to be successful that way."
Verhaeghe led Baldwin in scoring for the second straight game with 11 points. She was the only Bulldog in double figures as they shot seven for 35 from the field.
The Bulldogs finished the season 11-12, and return all but two seniors for next year's team.
Toot said he is proud of the team for never giving up all season and always working hard.
"I was very proud of the team," Toot said. "The thing I am most proud of is how we acted and reacted during our tough stretch where we lost 10 of 12 games. They continued to work hard, never quit and came to practice with a good attitude. Their hard work paid off, and they were able to upset two teams in sub-state. I am sure that is more than a lot of people were expecting."
Toot said the team should be proud of this season.
"I look back on this season with a lot of pride," Toot said. "Our girls showed tremendous character, and that's most important. They have a lot to be proud of."
Toot also said this team was the guttiest team he's had, and he enjoyed coaching them.
"This is the most consistent team I've had as far as giving a great effort everyday and every game," Toot said. "They took pride in their defense and doing the little things correctly. It was a joy to be around and a joy to watch them improve."
Verhaeghe was named to the All-Frontier League first team on Tuesday. She was the only Bulldog named to the list.
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