For the past decade, beating Garden Plain and Cheney in the competitive Central Plains League has been a struggle for the Conway Springs girls.
Tuesday night was no exception, but Conway Springs finally finished the task in a 56-42 win over Cheney to claim the school’s first girls basketball league championship in 10 years.
“It’s a wonderful feeling. We’ve had some really good teams in the past, but we haven’t been able to get over the hump of beating Cheney and Garden Plain and we beat them both this year,” coach Pat Carl said. “It’s been 10 years since Conway’s won the league, and they’re really excited so we’re going to enjoy this one.”
Conway Springs knocked off Garden Plain earlier this season and did the same to Cheney, though it wasn’t an official league game. Tuesday night’s meeting could have resulted in a tie among three one-loss teams had Cheney won. But Conway Springs claimed the outright regular-season championship, leading by as many as 20 points in the third quarter and fighting off a press-fueled Cheney rally that cut the lead to single digits in the fourth.
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“We had a feeling that would happen,” Conway Springs senior Alicia Carter said. “That usually happens to us. We get a big lead on them at the half and then we just let it go and they come back. But the fourth quarter we focused and finished strong.”
Carter and junior Janae Pauly made the difference under the basket, where Conway Springs got most of its points. Though the team didn’t shoot well (18 for 47 from the field), it was the offensive rebounds and putbacks from Carter and Pauly that turned the game. On Conway Spring’s first three possessions of the second half, Pauly fought her way open on the weakside post, caught the passes inside and scored each time to increase the lead to 20 points.
“She’s a big player,” Carter said. “She’s skinny, but she can work hard in there. She has those long arms.”
But Cheney, a team that has often handed Conway Springs heartbreaking losses this time of year in previous seasons, tried to do it again with a frenzied fourth-quarter comeback. A strong full-court press produced five consecutive Conway Springs turnovers, and Cheney was able to turn each possession into points. Though Conway Springs led 45-25 with five minutes left, an 11-0 run with baskets from five Conway Springs players brought the lead to 45-36 with three minutes to play.
Conway Springs spent the rest of the game at the free-throw line, as Cheney tried to finish the comeback, but the rally failed. Though Conway Springs didn’t shoot well from the foul line, they did manage to grab several key offensive rebounds on missed free throws. Erica Ebenkamp, who went just 5 for 10 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, twice tracked down rebounds off her misses and the extra possessions turned into points.
Cheney’s 6-foot-1 junior Haley Albers, who led the team with a 16-point average, was held to seven points thanks to Pauly’s defensive effort. Pauly finished with 8 points.
“I thought we did a great job on Albers, their big player,” Carl said. “(Pauly) was on her most of the night and she did a great job. Our guards are really seeing the floor better now, and we’re playing some really good team ball now, and you have to do beat teams like this.”
Ebenkamp finished with nine points, while Kristen Hilger added 10 and freshman Halie Jones led all scorers with 16.
Chaney: Wewe 5, Lonker 4, Higgins 2, Campbell 8, Monson 14, Freund 2, Albers 7.
Conway Springs: Bellar 4, Ebenkamp 9, L. Pauly 2, J. Pauly 8, Hilger 10, Jones 16, Koester 4, Carter 3.