The final test for South’s girls basketball dynasty — this incarnation at least — came in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Class 6A state championship game against Shawnee Mission Northwest.
And this last stand was one for the record books, as South rallied from a late deficit for a 36-30 win and its fourth consecutive state title — the first 6A team to win four titles in a row. It also capped the first unbeaten season for South in the four-year run under coach Antwain Scales, closing out the year with a 25-0 record.
All that was left after was to try and gauge the Titans’ place in history. Scales, for once, backed away from a challenge when asked where they should rank among the state’s all-time greatest runs.
“However people judge us, that’s their call,” Scales said. “I”m just extremely fortunate to have coached them.”
South kept its fans at Koch Arena on edge throughout the game, staging the first of several rallies at the end of the second quarter as All-State senior point guard Ericka Mattingly — one of the cornerstones of the four state titles along with 6-foot-2 senior center Kendrian Elliott — scored six points in the final three minutes before halftime for an 18-16 lead at the break.
"They definitely played like they had been here before. They knew what they were doing," said Shawnee Mission Northwest senior Brenni Rose, who led her team with 13 points. "They have some great Division I players that knew what they wanted, and they were going to get it, whatever it took."
Elliott, the Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year, was held scoreless in the first half and struggled to make an impact.
“Just really frustrating because of being double-teamed and feeling like I can’t help my team,” Elliott said. “I just needed to work harder, tell myself don’t get frustrated. Luckily, Kyla (Callins) stepped up, because without her we probably wouldn’t have won the game.”
Callins would be key later in the game, but it was Elliott’s burst to start the second half that put South up 23-18 after she scored five points in the first four minutes of the third quarter.
Shawnee Mission Northwest charged back, going on an 8-0 run to end the third quarter for a 26-23 lead after a three-pointer by Danielle Rehor with one minute left.
“Just had to relax, stay poised,” Scales said. “If I get rattled, the kids see that and as far as being a leader, I need them to adopt that same mentality I have, to understand patience and that things would come eventually. They have a never-say-die attitude, and I think that comes from them always working so hard.”
Trailing 27-25 with 7:08 left and both teams burning minutes off the clock with each possession, Callins drained a baseline jumper to tie the score 27-27 with 6:30 remaining. After catching the ball on the left wing, Callins hesitated for a moment, then drained a three-pointer for a 30-27 lead with 4:30 left.
“I wanted to pass, then I heard (Scales) yell out ‘Attack!’ so I let it fly,” said Callins, who scored a game-high 16 points. “Probably the first three I’ve hit all season.”
Callins scored again to make the score 32-27, then after Rehor hit another three to cut South’s lead to 32-30 with 2:30 left, the Titans ran the clock down to 17 seconds before Elliott found herself wide open for a layup. Mattingly hit two free throws with four seconds left to seal the win.
“I think, for four years, we’ve tried to work at such a high level,” said Mattingly, who scored eight points. “And we wanted to teach the young ones to work hard so they could get to the state championship game. There was some joy after, but there was also a sense of relief. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves all year.”
Elliott also took a moment to reflect.
“It’s hard to believe it’s over,” she said. “I think I’ll just remember the relationships with the coaches and my teammates the most ... it's still crazy to think it’s finally over.”