MAIZE — The Maize girls have struggled from the free-throw line so much that the Eagles focused solely on shooting free throws during a morning shootaround on Tuesday.
It didn't seem to help much Tuesday night as, early in the fourth quarter, the Eagles were 13 of 26 from the line, including two straight misses on one-and-one opportunities.
But then Paige Lungwitz got her chance at free throws. In the final 31.5 seconds, she hit four straight for the 61-57 victory over visiting Salina Central (5-1, 3-1).
"It becomes a mental thing, you're worried if you'll make it or miss it," said Lungwitz, who finished with 13 points. "You have to overpower that. I've played my whole life, so I've been in this situation so many times.
"All I do is tell myself, 'I can do it. I'm going to make it.' I picture it in my head, see the swish."
Salina Central, ranked first in Class 5A by the coaches association, was led by sophomore Shaelyn Martin, who has made an oral commitment to Kansas State. Martin finished with 13 rebounds 19 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field. Emily Wood had 17 points, hitting 3 of 8 three-pointers.
"This was a game we've been looking forward to all year," said Lungwitz, whose team is 5-1 overall, 5-1 in the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division I. "We knew they'd be a really good team.
"... We worked really good together. We had trouble getting through screens on defense, but we still played pretty good defense."
But Maize built a 26-15 lead midway through the second quarter, capping a 6-0 run with a putback by sophomore Kiersten Parks.
Parks finished with 11 points, as did Jurnee Reid. Keiryn Swenson had a team-high 14 points.
"We told Keiryn she better have a big game tonight," Maize coach Jerrod Handy said. "We thought it would be a mismatch."
Swenson pushed Salina Central's inside players; Hailey Mayfield and Erin Harvey quickly got in foul trouble for the Mustangs. So Salina Central had Martin guard Swenson.
"They collapsed a lot of people inside," Handy said, "and it opened the outside a little bit more."
The Mustangs got within two late in the first half, sparked by three-pointers by Wood, Martin and Brooke Peters.
"I was pleased," Salina Central coach Geoff Andrews said. "We were down by 11, and I called a timeout, and we bounced back. This team gets basketball, and they want to compete."
Maize pulled away to a nine-point lead in the third quarter, but then saw it erased as Salina Central hit 7 of 10 free throws in the final period and 2 of 4 three-pointers.
With Maize trailing 56-55 after a driving layup by Martin with 1:22 to go, Swenson scored inside. On the next Salina Central possession, Lungwitz blocked a Wood jumper.
Then Lungwitz hit her four straight free throws.
"You just have to block everything out and go up there and hit them," she said. "Everyone was telling me I could do it, and I stepped up there and hit them."