A 39-year absence from the state tournament ended for the Centre High School girls’ basketball team Saturday, as they survived a wild finish to defeat Fairfield, 35-32, for the Class 1A Division I sub-state championship in Goessel.
The Lady Cougars had the ball and the lead, 33-30, as they came out of a timeout with 40 seconds remaining in the game. It took 39 anxious seconds before Centre was able to secure the victory.
A scramble on the inbounds pass resulted in a tie-up, but Centre retained possession.
Fairfield’s Kristen Roberts committed a foul on the next inbounds play, giving Centre a third attempt in the backcourt from the sideline.
Cacey Simons tried to get a pass in to Shelby Makovec, but Roberts stole the ball and converted for the Lady Falcons, trimming the Centre lead to 33-32 with :20 remaining.
Centre turned the ball over again in backcourt on the next play, and Fairfield called a time-out with :14 left to set up a potential game-winning shot. Lady Cougars head coach Alan Stahlecker kept things simple for his team.
“We didn’t change anything defensively, I just said ‘We can’t let them have an open shot,’” Stahlecker said.
Roberts, the leading scorer in the game with 14, got the call for the Lady Falcons. When she drove into the lane, Centre players collapsed on her. Genesis Rudolph snuffed out the shot attempt, and Rebekah Basore came up with the ball and was fouled with :00.7 showing on the clock.
Basore capped her team-leading 12-point effort with two free-throws to nail down Centre’s first trip to the state tournament since 1973.
“We made the plays we needed to. We were down, but we kept working, then took the lead and held onto it,” Stahlecker said.
Every basket was critical in a low-scoring defensive struggle, but none were more important than two early fourth-quarter scores by Makovec that regained the lead for the Lady Cougars.
Neither team had scored for almost 6 minutes when Makovec drained a 12-foot shot from the left side at 5:21 in the fourth quarter to tie the score at 28.
Centre missed twice on their next possession before the ball came to Makovec, all alone deep in the left corner. Her 3-point attempt rattled home, and the 31-28 lead was the first Centre held since late in the second quarter. Makovec finished with 7 points.
“As I expected, it was a close, hard-fought game all the way. The girls always play hard, and tonight it paid off,” Stahlecker said.
Simons scored 9 points, and it was her emphatic rejection of a Fairfield shot at the end of the third quarter that kept Centre within 2 and set the stage for Makovec’s game-changing flurry in the fourth.
Stahlecker used a box-and-one zone against Fairfield to neutralize leading scorer Brandy Burns, who averaged 16 points per game. It worked to perfection.
“The key factor for us was holding their leading scorer to only 4 points,” Stahlecker said.
Stahlecker was gratified by the strong showing in support of his team at the Goessel event.
“The support shown by Centre students, staff, parents, and members of the community was incredible,” Stahlecker said. “We are really excited about the opportunity to play in the state tournament.”
Centre’s first-round opponent Thursday is Hoxie, ranked first in the state and the top seed in the tournament with a 26-1 record. The game at White Auditorium in Emporia tips off at 3 p.m.
The Lady Cougars battled league rival White City on Friday in the semifinals. They defeated the Lady Huskies, 52-40, in a well-rounded scoring game.
In a 9-7 first quarter with Centre in the lead, four Lady Cougars scored, including starters Basore, Theo Kassebaum, and Simons. Makenzie Deines came off the bench to add another 2 points.
White City scored first in the second quarter to tie the game at 9. After a layup by Basore and a 3-pointer by Rudolph, Centre led 14-9.
The Lady Huskies went on a 6-point run to take the lead, 15-14, with three minutes remaining in the quarter. Free throws by Simons, Shelby Makovec, Deines, and Amy Makovec gave Centre a 21-15 lead at halftime.
White City battled back to within 3 points in the third quarter; however, Centre led 35-28 at the end of the quarter after a 3-pointer by Jasmin Ghany.
Six Centre players scored in the final quarter, making 8 points from the field and 9 points from the free-throw line. They outscored White City, 17-12, and walked away with a 12-point victory.
“I was very pleased with our defensive effort on their best scorers,” Stahlecker said, noting the victory reversed a Jan. 6 loss to White City in league play.
Simons led scoring with 18 points. Other scorers were Deines, 8; Basore, 7; Shelby Makovec, 6; Kassebaum, 4; and Ghany, Amy Makovec, and Rudolph, 3 each.