First Liz Baska ducked. Then she laughed.
An errant pass thrown by one of her teammates had just whizzed past her face as she made a cut.
No need to worry, even though the Chieftains had less than five minutes remaining in their sub-state opener against visiting Atchison.
Baska continued on her assigned offensive route, came off a screen to receive a pass and scooped the ball off the glass with her right hand for a layup that put the Tonganoxie High girls basketball team up by 50.
The Chieftains won a laugher, 75-28, but did so efficiently in business-like fashion.
"Tonight was about us trying to get back to the way we play," coach Randy Kraft said after his team improved to 18-4 and bounced back from its first loss in 14 games by pressing, trapping and forcing 29 turnovers.
Baska led the Chieftains in scoring with 23 points. Her layup in the game's final minutes capped a personal 8-0 run she put on the Redmen in a two-minute span.
It appeared the senior might not play down the stretch when she took a seat on the bench early in the third quarter of the blowout, but Kraft put her back in to make sure his leading scorer got more game repetition as the team looks ahead to what should be much stiffer competition in its Class 4A sub-state bracket.
"At this time of year we need to get a rhythm," Kraft said. "I thought for the most part we did a good job of that."
Perhaps just as important for Tonganoxie, all of the players avoided injury.
"This time of year that's great," Kraft said with a laugh.
He might have been holding his breath in the third quarter when senior Tracie Hileman dove headfirst after a loose ball near half court. But Hileman (six points, six boards, four steals) got up unharmed and laughing, and Kraft said he expects that style of play from her.
"Tracie played really hard tonight, particularly early on. She was all over the place defensively," her coach said. "That's her, and we need that energy from her."
Shannon Carlin and Christy Weller each scored 15 for the Chieftains. Weller scored six straight points to open the third quarter and hit a three that opened the fourth. Carlin led THS in rebounds with eight as the Chieftains outrebounded their opponent, 38-31.
Junior Chrissie Jeannin scored eight points and dished out five of Tonganoxie's 19 assists.
Happy with his team's play in its postseason opener, Kraft doesn't expect things to come this easy from here on out. THS will take on Royal Valley (17-3) on Thursday at Holton. RVHS defeated Hiawatha, 52-39, on Monday to advance to the sub-state semis.
"It's going to get a lot tougher as we go along, but right now it's survive and go to the next one," he said.
The Chieftains will prepare for the next opponent by going hard at practice and keeping the energy high.
"We're the kind of team that needs to stay pretty intense," Kraft said. "We play better when we're feeling good and energetic and flying all over the place. So we'll work a little bit on that and then send them home and get some rest."
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