It all went so wrong for Derby’s girls through much of their first state championship appearance in 32 years on Saturday.
The Panthers couldn’t hit shots. They couldn’t unleash sophomore standout Kennedy Brown. They couldn’t pile one good thing on top of another.
And then the final five minutes of their season happened.
“When we came to that fourth quarter, I was like, ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter,’ ” Derby freshman Sydney Nilles said. “‘We can still come back and get this win. This is it.’
“We came out and we just turned it up.”
Trailing by 18 points with 5:02 remaining, Derby unleashed its fury on Manhattan. The Panthers forced turnover after turnover and finally caught the Indians with 24 seconds remaining.
But the all-out pressure eventually backfired.
Seconds after Brown tied the score at 42, Manhattan’s Haleigh Harper found teammate Kennedy Wilson open near the basket. Wilson scored with 11 seconds to play and when Derby’s Tor’e Alford missed a three-pointer in the final seconds, Manhattan had a 44-42 victory at Koch Arena and its first Class 6A girls championship.
Manhattan (24-1), the No. 2 seed, got 14 first-half points from junior Chrissy Carr and 10 from senior Gigi McAtee. But the Indians had to overcome 26 turnovers, and the Harper-to-Wilson connection finally did it.
“It was chaos, to be honest,” said Harper, a reserve guard who committed five of Manhattan’s miscues. “I think I was in my own head a little bit too much.
“I was never scared but I was moving too fast.”
When Wilson caught Harper’s pass, she had one thought.
“I was just praying that ball was going to go into the basket and that I wasn’t going to miss it,” she said.
Derby, which fell to 0-3 in 6A title games, shot 24 percent from the field, including 2 of 22 from three-point range. But with Nilles, Alford, Aliyah Myers and Madi Young supplying torrid defense, Derby almost overcame it.
“The crowd helped so much,” said Nilles, who scored nine of her 14 points in the fourth quarter. “Everyone just helped a lot. It was awesome.”
The first three quarters were far from that for Derby.
McAtee hit a three-pointer eight seconds into the game and Carr followed with one 40 seconds later. It stayed 6-0 for more than five minutes as Derby struggled to score.
Derby made 3 of 21 first-half shots, including all eight three-point attempts. Brown, double-teamed by the Indians whenever possible, went 1 for 8 before halftime and 4 of 12 for the game. She finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Derby’s shooting woes led to a 10-0 run by Manhattan at the end of the first half. Carr scored the first five points of the run, Megan Worthington added a three-pointer and Harper hit two free throws after drawing Brown’s second foul with 16 seconds before the break.
For Manhattan coach Scott Mall, who got his first state title in 24 years with the Indians, the experience was surreal. Immediately after the game, the 60-year-old held the game ball with his championship medal around his neck, watching his team pose for pictures.
“I’m way too old for this,” Mall said.
DejaNae Roebuck scored 20 points, making 8 of 8 field goals and 4 of 4 free throws for South (20-5). The Falcons, who were fourth last season, got 16 points from Kaiti Butaud and 15 from Lindsey Bartels.
Destiny Pittman scored 12 points and Brianna Johnson added seven for West, which finished 15-10.
“They can still be good next year,” said Johnson, a Maize transfer and one of seven West seniors. “It’s not like we just came over and it’ll be one and done. We’ve built a program that can be good.”