The Olathe South girls don’t get rattled. Consistently one of the state’s top teams, composure is a staple of the program.
But in the final five minutes in Friday’s Class 6A semifinals at Koch Arena, Wichita South had a hand in the Falcons losing their poise.
Wichita South took advantage as the Titans beat Olathe South 50-40 to advance to the 6A championship game with a chance to defend their title.
Wichita South (23-1) will play Maize (20-4) at 4 p.m. Saturday. Maize beat Manhattan 42-35 and is playing in its first title game.
“I think we played extremely well today,” Wichita South coach Antwain Scales said. “I’m extremely proud of my girls. That said, our work isn’t done. We have to get focused and get through tomorrow.”
While it was sophomore Ericka Mattingly who was clutch for Wichita South in the quarterfinal win, junior Kirea Rogers and seniors Eledria Franklin and Madison Northcutt were critical against Olathe South.
Rogers had 12 points, five blocked shots and nine rebounds. Franklin hit 6 of 8 shots, the beneficiary of transition baskets, along with hitting 2 of 3 three-pointers. And Northcutt had 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“It seems that every single time that we play, someone else is stepping up,” Scales said. “Today was Kirea. Ericka was the other day.”
Rogers is an athletic player with the ability to out-leap opponents, as she proved when she got her first block less than three minutes into the game.
If Rogers, who is long and quick, was near an Olathe South player looking for a basket, chances were Rogers was going to alter that shot, if not block it.
No doubt Rogers and 6-foot-3 Kendrian Elliott played a major role in Olathe South shooting 27.3 percent. Elliott had 10 rebounds, five offensive.
Wichita South trailed 22-21 at the half when Kopatich, who had 12 points, scored on a driving layup with four seconds to go.
The teams were close through the midpoint of the fourth period. Franklin hit a three with 6:41 to go in the game, and Olathe South responded with Rinehart’s only three-pointer and Samantha Samskey’s basket to get within 36-34.
Up by four, Mattingly hit a free throw at the 3:49 mark, but on her second, a miss, Northcutt got the rebound and the putback for the seven-point lead.
Olathe South got within 44-39 with 2:24 to go, but Rogers and Franklin each hit two free throws in the final 30 seconds.
“I think at the end, we freaked out,” Rinehart said. “Normally we keep our composure. We’re not used to that. I think it set us back a little bit. I think it was the tightness of the game.”
Jordan Morton led Olathe South with 14 points.
The Eagles made sure they wouldn’t have a third straight year playing the early game by beating Manhattan to advance to the program’s first title game.
“This is amazing,” said Maize senior Keiryn Swenson, who had a game-high 16 points. “We have wanted this so bad for so long.
“We’re tired of (third-place games). The next day you feel like you kind of don’t want to be there. I’ll tell the truth there. But in the end, you still make it pretty far, it’s still a pretty sweet victory. But the championship is better.”
Getting to this point is what coach Jerrod Handy, who is 97-24 in his five seasons at Maize, called a process. Playing in the past two third-place games, winning one, was part of that process.
And reaching the championship game, well, there’s a lot of factors.
“It depends on the seeding, who’s making shots, who’s playing well,” he said. “It takes a lot of luck.”
Maize didn’t play particularly well in the semifinal. It shot 41 percent from the field, 1 of 9 from three-point range and 9 of 22 from the free-throw line.
The Eagles had three points in the first quarter and trailed Manhattan 5-3.
“It did start slow,” Handy said. “It’s one of those games, Manhattan’s such a great defensive team, we were wondering how we’d score offensive points. I wanted to stress our defense. It was such a defensive battle.”
Handy wasn’t pleased with the Eagles’ first-half defense because he thought Manhattan got open way too much.
But allowing 17 first-half points?
“I was really happy with that. It was just a grind-it-out game. Just a tough, tough game,” he said.
Manhattan got within 24-22 after a three by Caroline Ballard with 6:07 to go in the third. Maize didn’t flinch, going on an 8-0 run, capped by Swenson’s jumper, for the 32-24 lead.
While Maize didn’t shoot well from the free-throw line — the Eagles were 9 of 22 —Baalman iced the game with two free throws.
Daley Handy had 11 points for Maize, while Manhattan was led by Darby Price’s 12 points, seven rebounds.
Maize freshman Brianna Johnson didn’t play in the second half after suffering a knee injury.
Maize junior Saige Baalman
Maize junior Keiryn Swenson
Maize girls coach Jerrod Handy