Chieftain girls clinch Tonganoxie Invitational title against Silver Lake with crucial free throws
Chieftain fans likely had an uneasy feeling in the final minute of Saturday's Tonganoxie Invitational girls tournament title game.
Filled with anxiety, fans watched as Tonganoxie's seemingly comfortable 32-23 lead in the final minutes began to wither at the hands of Silver Lake's smothering press.
With Ali Pistora and Elizabeth Baska fouled out on the bench, the lead became smaller even faster.
In that final minute, Silver Lake forced another Tonganoxie turnover and turned it into a two-point Eagle lay-up and 33-32 Silver Lake lead.
On Tonganoxie's next possession, an errant pass appeared headed out of bounds at mid-court and with it, the Chieftains' title hopes.
But then came Rebecca Bogard to the rescue. Bogard threw the ball over her head in hopes that it would land in a teammates' hands.
Luckily, Laura Jeannin was there to catch the pass. The next step was to somehow score the winning basket. In the process, a Silver Lake player fouled Jeannin.
As Jeannin stepped to the line for her first free throw, Silver Lake coach Loren Ziegler called for a timeout to ice Tonganoxie's senior guard.
After the timeout, Jeannin returned to the free-throw line.
As the Tonganoxie bench erupted, Jeannin stepped back to the line. In her signature position, Jeannin again dribbled, then crouched down, almost sitting on the floor as she fired the second free-throw.
With one last shot at the win, Silver Lake brought the ball down the court, but the Eagles couldn't convert a final time. Tonganoxie escaped with the victory, won its home tournament and improved to 9-2 on the year.
"No pressure," Jeannin said with a big grin. "I just kept saying to myself I've got win this for my team."
Jeannin did just that, even after the Silver Lake timeout.
"I think it helped me," Jeannin said. "I got to relax.
"Mr. Kraft just said 'LJ's going to make two free throws."
After finishing second at last year's Tonganoxie Invitational, Saturday's championship was even more important to the Chieftains.
But possibly more essential to this year's season is that the Chieftains won a close game. Each of the team's previous wins were decided by blowout margins. The two losses, however, were by a few points. Against De Soto in the Central Heights Tournament, Tonganoxie couldn't make free throws and fell by five to the Wildcats. Against Chanute in its next game, Tonganoxie fell by two in overtime.
On Saturday, Jeannin made sure free throws weren't the issue in a hard-fought win.
"It was a huge game for our confidence," THS coach Randy Kraft said.
It also was a grind-it-out game that Tonganoxie usually isn't accustomed to.
"That was like an endurance contest," Kraft said. "We could play again and it could be 60 to 61."
Ali Pistora, the tournament's most valuable player, recorded a team-high 10 points in the game. Most of Pistora's points actually came from three-point land. The sophomore had two three-point shots, while Madison Weller and Rebecca Bogard also had a three-pointer a piece.
In addition to Bogard's heroics late in the game, she also swished a buzzer-beater right before the half and scored her three-pointer at the end of the third quarter. Bogard finished the game with seven points.
Tonganoxie's season resumed this week with a home game Tuesday against Lansing and another league game Friday at Bonner Springs.
Log on to The Mirror's Web site, www.tonganoxiemirror.com, for results of Tuesday's game.