Chinstraps and mouthpieces: THS girls proved their worth at Salina
Comparing scores just doesn't work.
So-and-so beat what's-their-name by 16, but so-and-so beat you-know-who by just three.
Therefore, you-know-who automatically is 11 points better than what's-their-name.
Trouble is, you-know-who likely would have had a really good shot at beating what's-their-name.
You-know-who, of course, is Tonganoxie.
The Chieftains girls basketball team dropped a heartbreaker to Buhler in the state semifinals by three points in overtime Friday. Buhler then handled Labette County by 16 the next night and won the Class 4A girls state basketball tournament.
If Tonganoxie would have slipped past Buhler, THS would have been in the state finals against Labette County, a school that throttled Tonganoxie the last time THS was in the state tournament back in 1998.
But in 2005, it probably would have been a different story. That scenario, however, never had a chance to unfold. One could say Tonganoxie was the state champion once-removed, that Buhler and Tonganoxie ultimately played the state championship game on Friday.
That, however, would be unfair to Labette County, a No. 5 seed that knocked off No. 4 Colby before topping No. 1 Wichita Collegiate -- the team that defeated Tonganoxie on Saturday in the consolation finals.
In many ways, the title run seemed to be Buhler's destiny. The Crusaders were just 11-9 entering the postseason. After making its way through substate, Buhler disposed of No. 2 Iola, No. 3 Tonganoxie and No. 5 Labette County. Although Buhler's record was nothing special entering the tournament, the Crusaders' losses came to teams such as Newton and McPherson. McPherson, by the way, won the Class 5A title.
Tonganoxie could have defeated Buhler. The Chieftains committed 34 turnovers and made just 10-of-22 free throws. Just a few more free throws and a couple fewer turnovers should have sealed a victory for THS.
But it's all relative.
Sumner could have defeated Tonganoxie in the substate finals, if it weren't for last-second heroics by the Chieftains -- and some Sumner turnovers.
The thing is, those two amazing games showed one thing -- Tonganoxie had a whole lot of heart.
No matter how many turnovers were committed and how many free throws were missed, the four teams that defeated Tonganoxie this year didn't have an easy time of it.
Wichita Collegiate broke out to a 17-1 lead Saturday. When was the last time Tonganoxie trailed by 16?
Possibly last year at some point, but probably the year before.
That 17-1 first quarter occurred just after noon Saturday.
That's an early start considering the team left the Bicentennial Center about 9 the night before, after the heartbreaking loss to Buhler.
Again, it's all relative.
The team had a good-sized meal at a Salina steakhouse Friday night.
One could hear the girls debating about appetizers and main courses. Occasional laughs and giggles also filled the room.
And later that night, team members celebrated Tressa Walker's birthday. Tressa, the daughter of assistant coach Sue Walker, was all smiles as basketball players gathered in their hotel lobby to celebrate her birthday.
That's what made this year's team a special group -- they kept everything in perspective. The team had endured two tough losses, but eventually they found something worth smiling about.
This season certainly left many in Tonganoxie with plenty to grin about.
Tonganoxie's 22-4 mark came complete with Tonganoxie Invitational and substate tournament titles and a Kaw Valley League outright title -- complete with a senior class that will be greatly missed.
Laura Jeannin, Addie Heim, Madison Weller and Heather Deaver won't be easy to replace.
But the team welcomes back plenty of young talent -- players who now have state experience if Tonganoxie can make repeat visits to Salina.
Kelley Stauch and Amanda Lenon will be the team's lone seniors next year, while Rachel and Rebecca Bogard and Ali Pistora will return as top juniors.
And don't forget Elizabeth Baska, this year's freshman sensation who will return as a sophomore.
When Chieftain players and fans left the Bicentennial Center on Saturday, a warm, sunny day greeted them outside the arena.
That was fitting. It truly was a great day to be a Tonganoxie Chieftain.
And don't forget, the future looks bright for return trips to Salina.
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