Olathe Free State High girls basketball coach Bryan Duncan is a notorious nail-biter when he gets nervous.
It didn't take long Friday for the Firebirds to notice as Duncan nibbled away during Free State's junior varsity game at Olathe Northwest.
"He's a pretty high-strung guy anyway," Firebird senior Jenny Gwaltney said. "But tonight, all of us could tell that his anxiety level had risen."
Duncan's apprehension didn't affect his squad as FSHS easily defeated Olathe Northwest, 51-40.
"Normally, I don't get very nervous before games," said a smiling Duncan, whose 6-11 squad emerged victorious for the second time in four games. "But I was almost beside myself before this one."
Duncan had his reasons.
While Olathe Northwest (1-17) is experiencing growing pains its first season, Duncan was aware three freshmen would suit up for Northwest Friday that hadn't played regularly.
While Kaylee Murdock was the only one of the trio to see action, she proved Duncan's hunch correct with five points and five rebounds.
Murdock and sophomore Ingrid Pudliner, who scored a game-high 22 points, kept the Ravens close, but a hungry Free State squad pulled away in the second and third quarters.
After trailing 11-10 after the first eight minutes, Free State went on a 13-3 run in the second quarter. Things opened up even more during the third.
"We came in at halftime and coach kind of told us to play with a swagger," said Jamie Stanclift, who led Free State with 19 points. "He said that we should play like the better players on the court because we were. And that's exactly what we did."
Free State not only doubled its third-quarter scoring output over the Ravens by a 16-8 margin, the Firebirds also outrebounded Northwest 16-8 in the third.
"We definitely played with some confidence tonight," Gwaltney said. "It's nice to finally be able to look up at the scoreboard and know that were actually up by a few points, instead of always being down."
With a nonconference home game today against Wichita Southeast and seemingly winnable games against Shawnee Mission East and Olathe North coming up, Gwaltney said the team would play as if Free State had to win all three.
"We're going to play them all like we need to win them to get to the state tournament and see what happens," she said.
Free State boys 54, Olathe Northwest 37
Firebird coach Jack Schreiner just wanted his to team to get a victory Friday night and avoid injury before his team's showdown tonight with defending state champion Wichita Southeast.
Schreiner got part of that equation when his 11-6 squad used a stifling full-court press to shut down the 1-17 Ravens.
Free State, which forced 24 turnovers, opened the game with a 10-0 run and had doubled up the Ravens by its first possession of the second half.
Firebird Brady Morningstar led the way with 18 points, while Cole Douglas added 14 and a game-high 11 rebounds.
"The kids aren't stupid," Schreiner said, "they see O-Northwest's record and they know that they are going through some growing pains, much like we did a few years back.
"Overall I think our defensive pressure really controlled the game early. Had we made a few more shots we could have put the game away earlier. Now we just have to get ready for today and try and get a little revenge."
The Firebirds might have lost senior Caleb Harvey, who rolled his right ankle when he came down on a Raven player midway through the first quarter. Harvey had to be helped by teammates to the locker room and came out at halftime on crutches. Schreiner said he wouldn't know the severity of the injury until today.
The Firebirds already are shorthanded because leading scorer Dain Dillingham is already sidelined by illness.
Today's doubleheader will start with the girls game at 5 p.m. and the boys at 6:45. Wichita Southeast swept the Firebirds a year ago in Wichita.