Olathe — Free State High senior guard/forward Katie Rhodes did something Friday night that maybe everyone should do more often.
She listened to her mother.
After going 0-for-8 from the floor in the first half, Rhodes remembered the advice her mom, Connie, often offers her and came out gunning in the second half.
Rhodes connected on seven of 10 second-half shots and scored all of her team-high 20 points as the Firebirds (15-6) pulled away from Topeka High for a 45-31 victory in a Class 6A sub-state girls basketball semifinal at Olathe East.
"My mom always tells me to keep shooting," Rhodes said. "Eventually, with the law of averages, it will fall in some time hopefully. I just kept shooting and I knew that my team was depending on me to be strong offensively. I tried to do that more in the second half."
And do that she did. With Free State trailing 20-16 with 5:56 remaining in the third quarter, Rhodes had three straight steals and seven straight points during an 11-0 burst that translated into a 27-20 lead with 1:44 to play in the quarter.
The Trojans (7-14) didn't pull any closer than five points the rest of the way, stymied in part by the Firebirds closing on an 11-2 run.
"We came in and we were a little bit slow. We were slow off the bench and we didn't have enough energy as we needed," Rhodes said. "In the second half we really tried to pick it up. We started to play our game and we stopped thinking about this is sub-state and this could be our last game.
"We starting thinking this is a game we wanted to win."
Neither team exactly started fast, combining to shoot 27.3 percent (12 of 44) as Topeka claimed a 15-14 halftime edge. Free State also committed seven of its 10 turnovers before intermission and forced just 11 of Topeka's 28 miscues.
"I think that we were a little hesitant and a little tentative," FSHS coach Craig Hershiser said. "I don't think it's unusual for a team to come in in the first round of sub-state and feel those kinds of jitters. It's the whole one-and-done atmosphere."
While the Free State starters were struggling, the bench took up the slack, scoring 10 of the Firebirds' 14 first-half points. The starters barely outscored the bench which included four of the seven Firebirds who scored for the game, 26-19.
"Megan (Dougherty) played a great game off the bench for us," Hershiser said. "She's been playing very well the last 2-3 weeks of the season. I think she's very comfortable with what we're doing out there. She's aggressive, she makes some things happen and she's got a little more confidence in her shot right now. She did knock down some for us when we really needed them.
"Linsey Morningstar came in with a bucket in the third quarter for us when the game still mattered. Stacie Garland hit a bucket for us in the fourth quarter. And Christina (Neighbors) gave us a good effort again," Hershiser added.
Neighbors, a senior forward, scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting.
Perhaps more importantly, though, Neighbors helped senior post players Lauren Wilkinson and Joyia Chadwick try to slow Topeka junior standout Crystal Kemp "try" being the key word as Kemp scored 20 of the Trojans' 31 points, falling 2.3 points shy of her season average.
"The hardest thing about her was that she was just so big," Neighbors said of the 6-foot-2 junior center. "Trying to get in front of her so she can't get the ball was difficult. But when we had weak-side help and we could get in front she wasn't too hard to play against."
Next for Free State is the winner of Olathe East-Leavenworth. Tipoff for the sub-state championship is 6 p.m. at Olathe East.
"There's honestly, I don't think, a lot separating our team and either one of these two teams right now," Hershiser said. "We beat Olathe East by five (36-31). Their record's exactly the same as ours. We split with Leavenworth and they had a tough stretch in the middle of the season when they were fighting some injuries.
"Whoever comes out of this will be a real challenge for us, there's no doubt about it."