Varsity Basketball

Connect four: Aquinas seniors graduate with a career full of state championships

Aquinas finishes with a state championship for the fourth straight year

The St. Thomas Aquinas High School girls basketball team beat Blue Valley Southwest 58-37 in the 2019 Kansas Class 5A state championship game.
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The St. Thomas Aquinas High School girls basketball team beat Blue Valley Southwest 58-37 in the 2019 Kansas Class 5A state championship game.

With five minutes to go, Rich Hetzel gathered his team during a timeout.

The lead was secured, up 17, but championship mode kicked in. St. Thomas Aquinas capped its fourth straight Kansas Class 5A girls high school basketball state championship Saturday with a 59-38 win over Blue Valley Southwest.

The Saints’ three seniors — Blythe Pearson, Alayna Townsell and Kylie Jackson — never knew high school without a title trophy in their hands.

“There’s always a song that we sing before every state game,” Townsell said in reference to The Allen Family’s ‘Carry Your Candle.’ “And it’s just crazy that this is the last time I’ll be singing that song with my teammates.”

Townsell finished with a game-high 15 points in the win. The Hampton University pledge helped Aquinas to become just the eighth program in Kansas girls basketball history to win four straight.

She said she feels blessed to be part of such a renowned basketball community.

“I’m really just proud of everyone,” she said. “This is a really big moment for us, being the first in Aquinas history. We’re just embracing it.”

This crown marks Aquinas’ eighth state championship since 2001. Hetzel said seeing his players’ smiles after hoisting the state championship trophy is what matters most.

“Our seniors have been a huge part of this program for a long time,” he said. “Their individual growth as people has been the most impressive thing. Just watching them grow and how they handle adversity in practice or in the hallway at school.”

Although Aquinas’ 21-point win looks to have been a breeze, it wasn’t. The Saints were tied at 22 going into the locker room at halftime.

Blue Valley Southwest’s Madeline Garretson hit a layup ahead of the buzzer to snatch the momentum.

The Timberwolves didn’t miss from three-point range in the first half. They shot a better percentage from the floor than Aquinas and showed they belonged despite losing to the Saints by 26 a month earlier.

Pearson, who finished with 13 points in the win, said she could not feel better.

“It’s been a long ride,” she said. “Knowing how much people care about this team and care about me and care about each other, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Aquinas lost All-State selection Sereena Weledji off last year’s roster. With her departure, there were some natural questions about how this year’s group would mesh together. Hetzel said this group always seemed to love to be around each other, which made it a joy to lead.

With a title next year, Aquinas wound join Central Plains as the only girls programs in Kansas with at least five consecutive championships.

The Saints said they will enjoy this last one with the seniors, but Pearson said she hopes the group below her can carry on the tradition.

“I just hope the rest of them get the chance to experience this again,” she said. “Traditions live on.”

Basehor-Linwood boys take second

Basehor-Linwood could not pull off another amazing victory on Saturday. Basehor-Linwood fell to Andover Central 58-47 in the boys Class 5 championship game.

Basehor-Linwood had rallied for a wild second-half comeback in defeating Bishop Carrol on Friday to get to the championship game.

Basehor-Linwood, which finished 21-3, made it to that championship in its first year in Class 5A.

Andover Central held Basehor-Linwood to 12 points in the first half. The Bobcats again made a comeback but could not come up with the hot shooting as they had on Friday.

Basehor-Linwood coach Mike McBride said he didn’t believe his group would still be exhausted coming into the title game, but knew they had to “sell out” to reach Saturday unscathed.

“I was hoping it wouldn’t effect us, but we had so many open shots in the second half and just didn’t hit any,” McBride said. “I think you’ve got to assume that’s just having no legs.”

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Wichita Eagle preps reporter Hayden Barber brings the area updates on all high school sports while adding those hard-to-find human-interest stories on Wichita’s student-athletes.

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