Next stop: Salina
Chieftains named No. 1 seed for 4A state tournament
Upset-minded Eudora already had knocked off the No. 3 and No. 2 seeds in the Class 4A substate tournament.
The No. 6 Cardinals had their targets set on the No. 1 Chieftains in Saturday's substate finals in Tonganoxie.
The Chieftains held an 18-8 lead after the first quarter. But in the second, the Cardinals crept back in. EHS scored 15 points to Tonganoxie's eight and at halftime, THS was clinging to a 26-23 lead.
The back-and-forth scoring continued in the third quarter, as the perimeter-shooting Cardinals closed to within one, 30-29.
Eudora's shooting started to concern THS coach Randy Kraft.
"I thought, man, they've gotta cool off," Kraft said.
As for the Chieftains, they were having some trouble shooting after a stellar offensive performance the previous night against Basehor-Linwood.
"We weren't patient enough," Kraft said. "When you're not hitting the outside shots, it's hard to get the inside shots."
In the end, though, the Chieftains had enough offensive firepower to stave off a late Eudora rally and won, 46-34. Eudora did lead early, 4-0, but would never lead again.
The win pushed THS to 22-1 and gave the Chieftains their second state berth in three years. THS placed fourth at the 2005 state tournament.
After defeating De Soto by 35 in the substate quarterfinals and Basehor-Linwood by 23 in the semifinals, Kraft welcomed a drag-out championship game.
"I don't know what we'll do out in Salina," Kraft said. "But I do know this game will help us more."
Tonganoxie shot 35 percent from the field, compared to Eudora's 34 percent.
"We struggled from the field," Kraft said. "I thought the kids played hard and played well."
Sometimes the shots just didn't fall.
Regardless, Tonganoxie will be the No. 1 seed and will play No. 8 Abilene (20-3) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Salina's Bicentennial Center.
Ali Pistora led THS with 13, while Shannon Carlin scored 12 and Rachel Bogard 10.
Pistora, who watched as the final seconds ticked off the clock Saturday, started to get a little emotional. Tears started to well in our eyes.
Although she and Rachel and Rebecca Bogard tasted state two years ago as sophomores, a late foul against Sumner Academy with three-tenths of a second left put the Sabres to the line last year. Sumner sank both free throws and went on to state, preventing THS from a second straight state berth.
This, however, was one last shot at state, so one could imagine how emotional Pistora was.
"We've been working for it for a long time," Pistora said. "And dreams come true I guess."
Chieftains handle arch-rival
What a charm No. 3 was for the Tonganoxie High girls basketball team.
After playing two nail-biters against Basehor-Linwood in January -- both in the same week because of a scheduling change -- Tonganoxie and Basehor-Linwood hooked up for a third time in Friday in the THS gymnasium.
The Chieftains won both those January games.
This time, the stakes were much higher.
This time, the winner advanced and the loser ended its season.
This time, Tonganoxie made sure there was no doubt as to who would come away victorious.
THS held a slim 10-7 lead after the first quarter, momentum swung in Tonganoxie's favor in the second quarter, thanks to back-to-back three's by Ali Pistora and Elizabeth Baska that opened the period. Those buckets helped THS to a nine-point lead, and the Chieftains never looked back.
Tonganoxie led 24-11 at halftime and then 46-18 entering the fourth quarter.
When the game ended, the scoreboard read 57-34 in Tonganoxie's favor.
The win pushed Tonganoxie to 21-1 and set up a substate championship clash with Eudora. The Cardinals defeated Baldwin in the other semifinal game.
"We came out and ran like we wanted to," Christy Weller said, noting that the Chieftains also used a different press on defense to disrupt the Bobcats, who ended their season at 12-10.
The Chieftains also were pretty good in the rebounding department. On some occasions, THS players were so focused on boxing out that they lost track of the basketball.
"Everyone was boxing out and the ball would hit the ground a couple times," Rebecca Bogard said. "That's what we focused on."
And then there was the three-point line.
Tonganoxie connected for six three-point shots -- two for Pistora, two for Baska, one for Weller and one for Shannon Carlin. Pistora had two additional buckets that were just inside the three-point arc.
Pistora led the team with a game-high 20 points, while Baska scored 11.
It was an ideal postseason tournament feel inside the Tonganoxie gymnasium. THS and Basehor-Linwood students sections were side-by-side on the east side of the gymnasium floor. With the THS band rocking from the southeast corner of the balcony seating and a large crowd overall, the game had a special feel.
Just ask Weller.
"Tonight felt like the championship game," Weller said.
THS rolls against De Soto
Tonganoxie registered its 20th win of the season with a resounding 59-24 win against De Soto on Tuesday in Class 4A substate quarterfinal play.
THS started slow in the first quarter, but by the second quarter the Chieftains were rolling.
Ali Pistora, Elizabeth Baska and Shannon Carlin all led the Chieftains in scoring with 14 apiece.
"It wasn't our intent to start that slow," THS coach Randy Kraft said. "They were playing man, but it was soft. We weren't penetrating.
"And then there was a stretch when we fell in love with the three-point line."
After the slow start, Tonganoxie started clicking. At one point, Pistora, scored six straight points in the span of a few seconds, thanks to forced turnovers against the Wildcats.
And then, in the second half, came arguably the greatest play of the night.
Tonganoxie grabbed a rebound after a De Soto shot and with four crisp passes -- and no dribbling -- the Chieftains zig-zagged the ball down the court for a play that ended with a Shannon Carlin lay-up.
"That's awesome," Kraft said.
Before the game, Pistora was honored for being a McDonald's all-American finalist. She was nominated as an area finalist for the national honor.
A McDonald's representative and a Hamburglar mascot, presented Pistora with the award. McDonald's koozies also were distributed to the fans.
"It's quite an honor just be nominated to it," Kraft said.