Derby has run roughshod over every team unfortunate enough to be on the schedule in defense of its Class 6A girls basketball state championship this season.
The closest test the Panthers faced coming into Friday’s semifinal against Topeka Washburn Rural was a 12-point victory over McPherson, way back on Dec. 7.
Washburn Rural was the first team capable and willing to fight back against the Panthers this season, and didn’t flinch in a hard-fought 45-40 victory on Friday at Koch Arena.
The Panthers (22-1) will play Olathe Northwest on Saturday at noon in the third-place game. The championship game will be an all-capital city showdown between Topeka High and Washburn Rural.
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Washburn Rural, seeking its first state title since 2009, once again didn’t flinch. The Jr. Blues started the fourth quarter with five quick points to take its biggest lead of the game. It set the stage for an intense final five minutes.
The Jr. Blues managed to keep Derby at arm’s length down the stretch. Carly Bachelor hit a pair of free throws with 1:22 left to give her team a five-point lead.
Derby’s Aliyah Myers hit a three-pointer to pull the Panthers within two with a minute to play, but the Panthers would get no closer, because those were the last points they’d score on the evening.
The Jr. Blues salted the game away with three free throws in the final 50 seconds. Derby, meanwhile, couldn’t get a clean look, and the looks it did get wouldn’t fall.
Myers led the team with 20 points, and Kennedy Brown scored 10.
A heartbroken Derby team walked back to the locker room, where it could plainly hear Washburn Rural’s celebration going on in a nearby locker room. Such is the sorrow and heartbreak of postseason basketball.
Derby jumped to an early lead, but Washburn Rural clawed back to tie the game midway through the second quarter. The Panthers finished the first half with a flourish, however, and took a five-point lead into halftime.
The Jr. Blues were undaunted, opening the third quarter with an 8-2 run to give them their first lead of the game.
The two teams traded baskets and the lead for the next few minutes, with the lead changing hands four times late in the third quarter. Derby still managed to take a one-point lead into the final frame.
Boys Class 6A semifinal: Topeka Washburn Rural 55, Southeast 47
Washburn Rural finished the third quarter with a bang, and used that momentum to push to a Class 6A semifinal victory over Southeast.
The Jr. Blues’ Jordan Berry converted a four-point play as the horn sounded, giving his team a seven-point lead that it wouldn’t relinquish.
Southeast was led by 22 points from sophomore Jackie Johnson, and 12 from John Murdock.
Washburn Rural (23-1) was both balanced and methodical, a combination that was able to slow down Southeast.
“They slowed the game down. We’re used to pedal-to-the-metal running, and they slowed us down a lot and we couldn’t speed them up,” Southeast coach Joe Mitchell said. “When they got to the basket, they finished. I just think my guys weren’t locked in, and that’s what happens.”
The Golden Buffaloes (20-4) got as close as three points midway through the fourth quarter, but a 9-2 run from Washburn Rural put the game away.
Southeast won’t have a chance to compete for its first state title since 2008, but it will have an opportunity to take home a trophy. It faces Shawnee Mission South at 2 p.m. for third place.
“It didn’t end like we wanted it to. This being their first year under me, and their dealing with my aggressiveness and standard that I hold them at, I feel it’s big-time for them,” Mitchell said. “They exceeded my expectations, definitely.”