It’s not hard for coach Randy Jordan to make the parallel between the Newton girls basketball team that won the 2006 state championship and the team that is one game away from playing for another one after Wednesday.
The manner in which the Railers went about their 44-36 victory over Andover to advance to the Class 5A semifinals conjured up cherished memories from the past for Jordan.
“Both teams guard really well and both teams really put it together late in the season,” Jordan said. “It seems like this team is like that.”
Newton will meet top seed St. Thomas Aquinas, which outlasted Leavenworth in double overtime, in the 3 p.m. semifinal Friday because of its defense.
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Scoring was at a premium, with neither team stringing much consistency together. The Railers, which has won 10 games when scoring under 50 points, doesn’t rely on their offense because it cannot be controlled like their defense.
“We realize that it’s the most important part of the game,” Newton’s Abbie Lehman said.
More like Newton recognizes the potential of its defense with Lehman, a 6-foot-3 senior signed to play volleyball at Wichita State who spends her offseasons swatting shots in the middle for the basketball team.
“The girls understand if they can keep them out of the middle and force them to the baseline, then Abbie is back there to clean up the mess,” Jordan said.
It’s a philosophy that protects them from what happened to Andover, a team that relies on the outside shot falling.
For the third straight year, the Trojans failed to adjust to the raised floor at the Kansas Expocentre. Andover shot 33 percent on Wednesday and has shot a combined 30 percent in three losses in the state quarterfinals.
“It’s such an open space and it’s really hard to judge your shots,” Andover coach Max Hamblin said. “We’re an outside-shooting team and we had to make some of those.”
Andover, which trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half, had three chances to trim the margin to five but never converted. JoLynn Hallmark led Andover with eight points off the bench.
The Railers advance to their seventh semifinal in program history and the first since the 2006 team, despite shooting 36 percent and turning it over 14 times.
“That’s the kind of game that suits us simply because that’s what we’ve been through all season,” Jordan said. “We are used to it by now.”
Lehman finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds and Newton had four players score between six and nine points.
None of the players remember the 2006 team, but it’s one win away from earning the chance to be remembered like them.
“I swear our team chemistry this year...,” senior Kelsi Langley said. “Honestly, we are probably the closest team in the whole state.”
Kapaun Mount Carmel 54, Bishop Miege 41 — No player on Miege’s 16-time state championship team wanted to hustle to end what would be an over-and-back violation.
Two Stags player trotted. Grace Hagan sprinted. The Kapaun sophomore swooped in for the steal and basket, all but punching the Crusaders’ ticket to Friday’s semifinal against Mill Valley.
While Kapaun, the defending champ, may not have the past success of a program like Miege, no team likes Topeka better than the Crusaders right now.
“I don’t think they think anybody is better than them,” said Hagan, who finished with 10 points, six rebounds, three assists and five steals. “When we play, we’re not a team that’s going to get down on ourselves and argue about every call. We’re going to go out and play every second.”
A banked-in three-pointer from Blake Bullock just before halftime gave Kapaun a lead it never relinquished. Miege, which was behind by 16 points in the fourth quarter, was within seven points but never closer.
Sydney Kuhn led all scorers with 13 points and added eight rebounds, while Hannah Lienhard chipped in 12 points and six rebounds and Samantha Bachrodt had seven points, four rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals.
“The girls always play their best game up here,” Kapaun coach Marvin Estes said. “They know what’s at stake. That’s why we’re here.”
Estes may not coach in Friday’s semifinal because he will be with his wife, Wendy, who is having heart surgery just before noon in Wichita.
That has served as the inspiration for the Crusaders, as players have personal routines dedicated to their coach’s wife.
“Every time we’re at the foul line, we think, ‘We have to make this for Mrs. Estes,’ ” Hagan said. “We have to win for Mrs. Estes. That’s what we’re playing for right now.”