Maize brought the championship-caliber defense it needed to in the Class 5A final against St. Thomas Aquinas on Saturday.
The problem was Maize missed 29 of its first 32 shots and went more than 20 minutes between made field goals, as Aquinas successfully defended its title with a 47-35 win over Maize.
“When you play so hard on defense and I thought we were playing really well defensively, it’s so hard to come down and not be able to make a shot,” Maize coach Jerrod Handy said. “It takes so much out of you. It’s very defeating after awhile.”
Maize started the game with nine straight empty possessions, but then pieced together an 8-0 burst to take an 8-5 lead over Aquinas early in the second quarter. Outside of those four straight trips scoring points, Maize would score just two points in its other 20 possessions as it fell behind 15-10 at halftime.
The third quarter saw Maize finish without a made field goal, as all it could muster was four made free throws. The Eagles were still playing well defensively, holding Aquinas to 26 points, but the deficit grew to 12 because of a shooting performance that matched the ice-cold conditions in Topeka.
Maize finished shooting 8 of 39 (20.5 percent) and 3 of 15 (20 percent) from the three-point line. It was the third championship game loss in the last four years for Maize, which lost to Wichita South in the 6A finals in 2013 and 2014.
“I just feel like if we had come out and relaxed and maybe hit a few of those early shots, then that game turns out differently,” Handy said.
Some of the misses were open shots that Handy could live with, but he found himself wishing his team would have been a little more aggressive early on.
“We actually turned down some shots I wish we would have taken,” Handy said. “I challenged them at halftime to step up and make some plays and hit the shot. But with games like this, sometimes you get a little nervous and it’s tough to make those plays.”
Aquinas would lead by as many as 18 points, 32-14, in the fourth quarter, although Maize finished the game with a flurry of offense.
Brecken Roe made a three-pointer to end Maize’s field-goal drought, then Lauren White scored inside. Taylor Holmes made five straight free throws and within 90 seconds, Maize had reeled off a 10-0 run and cut Aquinas’ lead to 32-24 with 2:15 remaining.
“That Taylor Holmes girl is such a great player,” Aquinas coach Rick Hetzel said. “She’s really hard to stay in front of. They do such a good job attacking the basket, we really had to keep our feet moving defensively.”
But Maize ran out of time, as Aquinas made 23 of 28 free throws in the game and never allowed Maize to come closer than eight in the fourth quarter.
It was an emotional ending for Maize’s four seniors — Holmes, Roe, Caitlyn Stewart, and Jacey Handy.
“Those seniors are pretty special,” Jerrod Handy said. “I’ve never had a senior group that’s led us that well and that positively. They really showed the young girls how it’s all done. I’m going to miss that group.”