Olathe — It wasn't a game-winning buzzer beater, but it was close enough.
And it certainly propelled Olathe East High past Free State, 67-53, on Friday.
East's Joey Palcher hit a 25-footer at the end of the third quarter, giving the Hawks (7-2) a lead for the first time since midway through the first quarter, and leaving the Firebirds deflated.
"After he hit that shot, we knew they had the momentum," Free State senior Keith Wooden said. "But we have to tough it out."
The Firebirds did anything but tough it out, being outscored 20-7 in the fourth quarter.
It was one of those losses that left the whole team dejected, and it left coach Jack Schreiner in no mood for sugarcoating. After all, his team dropped to 6-3, lost its second straight game and third in four outings.
Free State's defense earned most of the coach's ire.
"They were able to dribble right around us, and even if we did come over on help defense, they passed it to the open man because we didn't rotate," Schreiner said. "I just don't understand why they were able to go around us all night."
East senior Brandon Coleman was a prime example. At 6-foot-5, he showed no fear of Wooden (6-9) and scored 24 points on a variety of jump hooks and slashing moves through the lane.
Some of Coleman's easiest baskets came when East's guards penetrated, then dished as the Firebirds' defense struggled to adjust.
"It just keeps coming back to our breakdowns defensively," Schreiner said. "Obviously, we made some stupid turnovers and things, but to me, as a coach, it was defense that cost us the game. We scored enough to win."
Sophomore Brady Morningstar had a season-high 10 points in the loss, but he was the only other Firebird in double figures.
It was the Firebirds' most lopsided loss of the season, and caps a four-game stretch that Schreiner characterized as their big games.
Starting with Leavenworth on Dec. 4, and all three Olathe schools, he was hoping to come away with two or three wins. Instead, FSHS went 1-3 and now has to reclaim some of the swagger it had before the holiday break when it opened 5-0.
The Firebirds get a chance at that Thursday against Topeka Seaman in the Topeka Invitational.
"We've got to come back and play well in the Topeka tournament. We've got to put these three games behind us and move on," Schreiner said. "We're going to see how mentally tough we are."
Olathe East girls 76, Free State 39
The Firebirds came in hoping to halt a six-game losing streak, but they never gave themselves the chance.
Free State (1-7) had almost as many turnovers as points, committing 34 against Olathe East, including 12 in the first quarter. The Hawks found themselves with several layups, short jumpers and wide-open looks, staking a 19-7 lead and never letting up. They poured in 22 more by halftime, and led by 39 at one point.
The Firebirds never settled in and never looked comfortable. But that's what happens when a team hasn't won in 43 days.
"We don't have an explosive offensive team to begin with, without turning the ball over that many times," FSHS coach Bryan Duncan said. "I think that's the effect of a six-game losing streak."
The Hawks (6-2) had three players in double figures, led by Brittany Broyles' 24 points. She made nine of 11 shots, including four of six from behind the three-point line.
With Karrah Clay adding 19, the Hawks had a formidable 1-2 punch, which FSHS couldn't match.
Sophomore Jamie Stanclift led the Firebirds with 15 points, while junior Jenny Gwaltney had nine.
Duncan praised his team's moxie, but said he expected that. Now he wants his team to start executing its gameplan.
"The desire is there, but it's like we told them in the locker room. At the varsity level that's expected," Duncan said. "You can only feed off that for so long."
Free State is off until Jan. 27 when it plays host to Kansas City, Mo., Hogan Prep. In the next 10 days, Duncan said they'll try to refocus and try to relax. After all, losing seven games can wear on a team, which may explain why the Firebird have been struggling.
"It's a strange thing," Duncan said. "Sports is such a psychological thing, shots start going in, the ball bounces your way, things get better when you start winning. We need that."