Falcons looking for three-in-a-row.
Wichita Heights' Odyssey Trussell took one shot against Maize.
She missed it.
She struggled from the free throw line, going 5-for-11. That was all the points she produced. She tacked on one rebound and one assist.
Yet she is arguably the biggest reason Wichita Heights is one win away from defending its state championship.
“Everybody has to know their role,” Trussell said. “I know I can knock down free throws, but I know that I'm going to sell out – like give it my all – to stop this girl.”
Trussell's impact on the scoring book came on the opposite side of the ledger.
Maize's offense runs efficiently behind the scoring strike of Keiryn Swenson and Paige Lungwitz. Lungwitz was held to six points in the Eagles' 48-39 loss. Her first basket came with just under three minutes remaining in the game.
Trussell kept her hands close to Lungwitz, but just far enough away to stall Lungwitz' offensive aresenal.
“She did a great job on Paige tonight,” said Wichita Heights coach Kip Pulliam. “Defensively, she's stepped her game up.”
Of course, the Falcons (18-6) still had to wake up their offense – one that has been inconsistent of late.
Jharian Bowen confidently filled that role. Her 3-pointer with nine seconds to go in the first quarter put Wichita Heights up for good, 13-10. As the first half winded down, she drilled another to put the Falcons ahead 22-18.
“She steps up all the time for us, knocking down those threes,” Trussell said.
A brutal third quarter left Maize gasping to stay close. Swenson polished off a field goal to cut the deficit to 34-27, but Wichita Heights' Katie Palmer separated for a buzzer beater to crush the Eagles' momentum.
Bowen ended the night with 18 points, and Palmer pitched in 13. Swenson scored 18 for Maize (21-3).
Wichita Heights' win puts it on pace to take its third straight championship. The final opponent is a unique one, though.
Wichita South brings the No. 1 seed into the title game, but more importantly, already owns two wins over the Falcons from the regular season.
“It's going to be a battle,” Pulliam said. “I can't wait. We battled them hard twice, and they beat us both times, but we're just hoping the third time is a charm.”
The Falcons are aware of their stumbles against Wichita South. It only adds to their hunger.
“Can't wait for that one. Can't wait to get this back,” Bowen said. “That's revenge for me.”
Wichita South fell behind early, but the Titans recovered well to set up a showdown with Wichita Heights for the 6A state title.
The Titans defeated Blue Valley North 51-48 in the semifinals.
Blue Valley North picked up a 14-9 lead after one quarter, but Wichita South answered by doubling up on the Mustangs in the second, 16-8.
Wichita South continuously struggled with free throws, but made enough to secure its spot in the championship round with a 51-48 win.
Kirea Rogers led Wichita South with 13 points. Ericka Mattingly and Kendrian Elliott each chipped in 10. Christian Keys led Blue Valley North with 15.
The Titans, the No. 1 seed, won their 22nd consecutive game. Two of those wins came against their opponent in the title fight – Wichita Heights. Wichita South (23-1) won the first meeting on Jan. 8 38-32, then ran away with a 51-36 victory on Feb. 15.
Wichita South's most recent title came in 1978.
Blue Valley North (19-5) will face Maize in the third place game.
For three consecutive years, Blue Valley Northwest has been the stepping stone for Wichita Heights' dynasty.
But this year, Wichita Heights is not in the state tournament. There is no Perry Ellis haunting the Huskies' defense.
“I just saw Heights, and I didn't see Perry with the girls team. I'm hoping Perry's not showing up around here,” said Blue Valley Northwest coach Ed Fritz.
On a serious note, Fritz knows there are no gimmes in the 6A title game. Facing a Blue Valley West squad that has already pulled two upsets is cause for caution.
“We know we can get beat any time,” Fritz said. “We're going to have to earn it if we win tomorrow. That's the bottom line.”
Fritz had his Huskies take the drama out of the semifinal game early, romping Derby 73-36.
Blue Valley Northwest (24-0) was up 19-4 after the first quarter.
“The one thing on the season, if they had a potential weakness, the only thing might have been their perimeter shooting,” said Derby coach Brett Flory. “That was not a weakness today. They were sensational.”
Clayton Custer, an Iowa State commit, scorched the Panthers for 25 points in the victory.
“The reason why he's special is not even his skills,” Flory said. “He's just such a winner. He carries himself like a champion.
“He's one of my favorite high school players I've ever coached against.”
Derby's Taylor Schieber topped the Panther scorecard with 18.
The Panthers (19-4) will try to lick their wounds before a third-place contest with Shawnee Mission East.
“There are two reasons to play tomorrow. The first and most important reason is for each other. These guys, hopefully, mean a lot to each other, and I know they mean a lot to me,” Flory said. “The next reason to play is we do still have an opportunity, although the dream of a state title is gone now, we have an opportunity to finish higher than any team in our school's history.”
A late rally by Shawnee Mission East fell short, giving Blue Valley West its second upset of the tournament and putting it one game away from a state championship.
Shawnee Mission East put in a workmanlike effort in the first half, taking a 22-19 lead into halftime. However, Blue Valley West responded with a 22-11 burst in the third quarter for an eight-point edge.
The Lancers poured in 25 points in a furious run in the fourth, but came up one point short to the tournament's Cinderella.
The Jaguars' Connor Kaiser punched in 17 points to pace his squad. Zach Schneider provided 21 for Shawnee Mission East, and Vance Wentz added 20.
Nothing in the bracket has been able to slow down Blue Valley West's upset run yet. The Jaguars (15-9) have knocked off the No. 2 and 3 seeds to get to the title game. To take the trophy outright, they have to figure out No. 1 seed Blue Valley Northwest, which is undefeated.
Blue Valley West is the most recent team to win a title that is not from Wichita - the Jaguars took the 6A crown in 2007.
The Lancers (21-2) face Derby in the third place game.