Any state-caliber team will have its shooters and lockdown defenders. But to push the echelon of a true title contender, a squad needs its role players.
One job that needs filled is the bruiser. Glamorous, no, but someone has to crash the boards and force opposing offenses out of the post. In Garden Plain's 40-37 win over Mulvane in the Wildcat Classic championship game, Lizzie Costello shined in that role.
“Coach (Sarah McCormick) was telling me to box out really hard. We thought we had an advantage down low,” Costello said. “(We wanted to) buckle down and go get every rebound, because we want it really bad.”
A back-and-forth contest looked like it was turning Mulvane's way in the third quarter. Elise Gerlach sank a 3-pointer from another area code and Aubree Burkhart soon followed with a bucket that gave the Wildcats a five-point lead.
Garden Plain kept close, but another 3-pointer from Gerlach with 5:45 to go in the game again stretched Mulvane's edge to 32-27.
Alli Heimerman answered with her own 3-ball on the other end, cutting the Owls' deficit to two. A possession later, she tried to put Garden Plain ahead with another long ball, but it missed.
A Mulvane defensive rebound may have been a dagger. Instead, there was Costello, using her timing and energy to wrap up Heimerman's miss and put it back to tie the game.
“She really was a big help tonight. Her offense and defensive glass and rebounds was a major impact on the game,” Heimerman said. “She just changed the game.”
The Owls kept the momentum. Cassidy Haukap scored inside, and Costello added another bucket. Soon, Garden Plain was ahead 38-32 after an 11-0 run. Gerlach hit one more 3-pointer to bring Mulvane within five, but Heimerman sank two free throws with 43 seconds to go to put the game away.
“She carries the team and calms us all down,” Costello said of Heimerman. “Even when she's not having the greatest game, she's consistent.”
Heimerman finished with 10 points to lead the Owls (12-1). Costello added eight points and five rebounds off the bench. Haukap also went for eight and five.
Gerlach scored 21 points for Mulvane (9-4), including 16 in the second half.
On its way to the title, Garden Plain, a 3A school, knocked off three bigger schools – Ark City (5A), Wellington (4A) and Mulvane (4A).
“We know we can be great, and that's our goal – to be great,” Heimerman said. “Beating those teams is a sense of encouragement, like 'we can do this.'”
Third place game: Wellington 34, Clearwater 26
A chance to relax in the fourth quarter would have been nice for Wellington head coach Kevin Hackerott, but in the long run, his team's sweat-it-out victory will go a long way.
Up by as much as 19 in the third quarter, Clearwater made a valiant run to give Wellington (8-4) a scare before the Crusaders polished off a 34-26 win.
“What a crazy ride,” Hackerott said. “Part of it is you have to learn how to win games. I'd much rather learn our lessons after getting a win. We'll see if we do better next time in that situation.”
A 3-point play from Bryna Vogel, a steal and layup from Kristen Babb, another bucket from Vogel and a free throw brought Clearwater from down 15 to only seven with 1:30 to go in the game.
The Indians continued to find opportunities in the dwindling seconds, but could not convert them.
“We were burning a little clock, but we weren't aggressive with it,” Hackerott said. “The only way you can learn is to get in those situations.”
Vogel led Clearwater (7-5) with 11 points. Savannah Cornejo topped all scorers with 16 for Wellington.
Fifth place game: Campus 68, Wichita Defenders 30
Brianna Bosley scored 15 points as Campus cruised to a victory in the fifth place game over the Wichita Defenders (11-10).
The Colts (5-8) led 19-2 after the first quarter.
Seventh place game: Winfield 59, Ark City 35
Winfield (4-8) salvaged seventh place in the tournament with a strong win over Ark City (0-13). The Vikings scored 20 points in the second quarter to push away.
Courtney Griffiths provided 12 points for Winfield.
Wellington's Savannah Cornejo and Kailey Jenkins; Clearwater's Bryna Vogel; Wichita Defenders' Callie Jackson; Campus' Brianna Bosley and Reagan Brown; Mulvane's Elise Gerlach and Destynee Donaldson; Garden Plain's Alli Heimerman and Cassidy Haukap
Alli Heimerman, Garden Plain