By Brent Maycock, Topeka-Capital Journal
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When Shannon Strecker buried a 3-pointer with 5:41 left in Thursday’s semifinal against St. Joseph (Mo.) Benton, Hayden’s girls appeared well on their way to Saturday’s Basehor-Linwood Invitational championship game.
The trey gave the Wildcats a 10-point lead, 32-22, and Benton hadn’t really shown any signs of offensive life.
Two minutes later, Hayden had a fight on its hands. Benton mounted a fourth-quarter rally to get within one and Hayden wound up needing a defensive stand in the final 30 seconds to secure a 39-36 victory.
Hayden (7-1) will take on Holton (10-1) in Saturday’s 6 p.m. title game in a rematch of an earlier game this year won by Holton 47-33. Holton played Basehor-Linwood in Thursday’s other semifinal.
“We knew this game could be scary,” Hayden coach Jesica Farmer-Walter said. “They’re a great 3-point shooting team and they don’t just have one, but several that can shoot it. … It was a tough night against a great team.”
It took quite awhile for the great shooting Benton team to show up. Through three-plus quarters, the Cardinals were just 1 of 14 beyond the arc.
But once Benton found its stroke, it got interesting. The Cardinals drained three 3-pointers in a two-minute stretch — two by Andee Wahlert — to cut Hayden’s 10-point lead to two with 3:16 to play.
After the lead shrunk to one, Hayden got a big follow shot by Bree Schmidt with 1:27 left. Benton answered, but Strecker made two free throws with 36.4 seconds left to restore a three-point lead.
Benton got a chance as Farmer-Walter opted not to foul, but Erin Riddle’s guarded 3-pointer at the buzzer fell well short.
Unable to generate turnovers off its press, Hayden had to find its offense in a half-court set and struggled for a while to find a rhythm. The Wildcats made just 4 of 10 shots in the first half and only took 22 shots in the game.
“They took us out of our game a little bit because they were quick,” Farmer-Walter said. “It made it tough at times to press and on offense, we just had to adjust.”
But the Wildcats were good at the free throw line, making 17 of 25 for the game. Jordan Lenherr was 8 of 11 at the stripe on her way to a game-high 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Bree Schmidt added nine points off the bench for Hayden.
BASEHOR-LINWOOD 47, HAYDEN BOYS 42 — In great position to join the Wildcat girls in Saturday’s championship game, Hayden’s boys fell apart down the stretch. The Wildcats held a 40-32 lead with 5:07 left in the game, but managed only two points the rest of the way as defending 4A champion Basehor-Linwood finished the game on a 15-2 run.
After turning it over just eight times in the first three quarters, Hayden committed six in the final period, none bigger than the one with 17 seconds to play.
Down 43-42, Connor Beck was stripped on a drive to the basket and the ensuing jump ball gave it back to the Bobcats. Jahron McPherson made a pair of free throws to give Basehor a three-point lead and instead of going for a tying trey, Beck drove the baseline and missed a short jumper.
Basehor then made two more free throws to ice the comeback victory.
Tanner Triggs scored 21 to lead the Wildcats, getting 17 of them in the first half. He was scoreless from the field in the second half.
Hayden will play Blue Valley in Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. third-place game, while Basehor will meet Ottawa in the 7:30 final in a rematch of last year’s state championship game.
HOLTON GIRLS 51, BASEHOR-LINWOOD 24 — Holton scored the first nine points of the game and never looked back, routing the tourney hosts. The Wildcats forced Basehor into 16 first-half turnovers and 30 for the game.
Holton didn’t have nearly as slow of a start offensively as it did in Tuesday’s tourney opener. After missing its first four shots, the Wildcats knocked down their next four to quickly open up a lead on the Bobcats.
Kyrstie Miller finished with 16 points to lead all scorers, adding seven steals. Nine different Wildcats scored and Holton led 29-15 at the half and 43-20 at the end of the third.
OTTAWA BOYS 58, BLUE VALLEY 52 — Duke signee Semi Ojeleye scored 23 of his game-high 45 points in the fourth quarter as Ottawa rallied from down 46-34 with 6:29 left to remain undefeated.
Ojeleye scored 15 points in a 17-0 Cyclone run that erased Blue Valley’s lead.
Dallas Natt added 11 for Ottawa (12-0). Connor Hurst led Blue Valley with 16 points.