Coach ‘relieved’ after winning tournament
Paola Sure, the Tonganoxie girls basketball team may have won the Paola Girls Basketball Invitational on Friday, but the game seemed more like a scrap-fest than a smooth-sailing victory to coach Randy Kraft.
He even had one word to prove it.
"Relieved," Kraft said, laughing, after Tonganoxie's 47-43 victory against Eudora in the finals. "Eudora - gosh - their defense is relentless and they never let up on you. It was a tough game."
Eudora's defensive speed was the primary reason for the occasional THS frustration. The Cardinals employed a full-court press for the majority of the first half. They didn't seem to get tired, either.
Furthermore, Tonganoxie was without the services of senior guard Cara Carlisle on Friday. Carlisle injured her knee on Dec. 3 against Highland Park. She's scheduled for an MRI this week.
Carlisle doesn't start, but her absence didn't make it any easier for THS against Eudora's quickness.
"With Cara down, it makes us a little more shorthanded," Kraft said. "We really needed ball-handlers on the floor tonight. They wanted us to dribble. They wanted us to put it on the floor."
Once the Chieftains played into a rhythm and spaced the floor properly, they broke the Cardinals pressure defense, occasionally with ease. Then, Tonganoxie found its post players.
THS simply dominated the paint. Seniors Liz Baska and Shannon Carlin, and junior Ronnie Grizzle combined for 37 points. Essentially all of their points came from layups and free throws.
Grizzle has filled in admirably off the bench this season. She only had one field goal Friday but was tenacious around the net and provided several key rebounds. As a result, Grizzle made 10 trips to the free throw line. She converted seven.
"It was a big advantage because their two starting posts fouled a lot in the first half and weren't in there," Grizzle said.
Tonganoxie carried a 24-21 lead into halftime. The Chieftains enjoyed a seemingly comfortable nine-point lead with 4:30 remaining in the third quarter.
But the Cardinals came back. With a 6-0 run, they hacked the THS lead to three with 2:40 remaining in the third quarter.
The game remained that close with 25 seconds left in the game. Tonganoxie had the ball, protecting a three-point lead. In an attempt to get the ball back, Eudora fouled Baska and put her on the free-throw line.
Baska was clutch for the Chieftains.
She made both free throws and extended the THS lead to five.
Baska didn't think she made the first free throw, though.
In an odd and somewhat comical sequence, Baska said "off" as soon as the first free throw attempt left her hand. Coincidentally, the ball hit the left portion of the rim and rattled in.
"It went off the fingertips wrong," Baska said. "I was just like, 'Oh! Well that's a nice surprise.' Before the game, I actually had some visualizing of free throws. They didn't go in exactly how I pictured them, but they went in."
From the sideline, Kraft looked as relaxed as he had all season with Baska at the charity stripe with the game on the line.
"I was glad Liz was going to the line," Kraft said. "Liz is a veteran player and I would expect Liz to do that."
After the game, Baska, Carlin and senior Tracie Hileman were named to the all-tournament team.
THS won all three of its tournament games. It defeated Highland Park, 62-31, on Dec. 3, then defeated Bishop Ward, 70-39, on Dec. 4 to get to the finals against Eudora.
Tonganoxie will play its next game at 6 p.m. Thursday against Lansing at home.
THS will then play in the Hy-vee Shootout against St. Teresa's Academy (Mo.) at 4 p.m. Friday. The Chieftains will play the game at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo.