The Kansas Class 5A girls sub-state championship game between Heights and Maize at Heights came down to a single free throw.
The game was tied 44-44 when Heights sophomore guard Laniah Randle was fouled on a last-second shot. The call itself caused controversy as the referees had to determine if the shot and the foul happened before or after the final buzzer.
Despite Maize coaches, players and fans expressing their dissatisfaction over the foul, the referees stuck to their initial call and gave Randle two free throws with .5 seconds on the clock.
In a half-packed gym where there was enough noise to seem like the gym was packed, the sophomore missed her first free throw.
“After I missed the first free throw, I just tried to tune out the entire crowd and just focus on my shot,” Randle said.
Randle’s focus paid off. She made the free throw and Maize won 45-44. The victory sends Heights to the state tournament for the first time in six years.
“I just wanted to be sub-state champions and go to state and get the win,” Randle said. “I knew it was up to me, I had to do it for the team.”
Heights coach Ken Palmer said Randle was feeling down on herself for being the reason the game was tied in the first place.
Right before the final possession, Maize was down three when Randle fouled the Eagles’ Sydney Holmes on a three-pointer. Holmes, who is also a sophomore, knocked down all three of those free throws to get the game tied with 14.2 seconds on the clock.
“It was really tough on (Randle) because she felt so bad about giving up that foul,” Palmer said. “Then I told her ‘Hey, shake it off, we still have time.’ I told her to get the ball back and she did.”
With only two seniors on the Heights roster, Palmer has had to prepare the young players for crucial game situations like the one they were in on Friday night.
From the beginning of the season he has preached to the players that the grade level doesn’t determine how successful they will be on the court.
“It’s hard, we’re starting freshmen, sophomores and juniors,” Palmer said. “I just tell them ‘Hey, keep playing and working hard. I know we’re young, but we can play like the big boys. Don’t let your grade be a factor, we can play like the big boys.’”
Palmer also mentioned the ability to come in and play as a team was a big focus of the season.
“My young kids come in already confident,” Palmer said. “But learning to gel together with the older girls and get that chemistry going.”
Going to state is something that not even the two seniors had experienced in their time on the team.
“I’m so happy I get to go for my senior year, I haven’t been at all so I’m so excited,” senior Rajone Callahan said. “I’m so happy that our team came together to make it happen.”
As a senior, Callahan is hoping to teach the younger players the correct mindset for state.
“We’re going into state knowing that we can win it, but remaining respectful to the other teams,” Callahan said. “We’re not going to be cocky, we’re going to practice hard and try to win the state championship.”