Bonner Springs Free State High's girls basketball squad took a little while to get warmed up at the Bonner Springs Metro Prep Classic Friday night, and it came back to haunt the Firebirds in a big way.
The Firebirds registered just two points in the opening eight minutes, which coach Bryan Duncan lamented after his team fell to Shawnee Heights, 55-52, in double overtime.
"I think the kids came out excited to play, but not quite ready to play, and there's a big difference - I think we'll learn," Duncan said. "I think it took us awhile to realize you've got to show up every night and really play hard, be dynamic with the basketball and really defend. Unfortunately, when you play a good team, they don't give you a freebie in the first quarter."
FSHS sophomore center Ashli Hill scored the game's opening bucket to give the Firebirds the early lead, but the Firebirds didn't score again until the second quarter, when they scored nine to the T-Birds six on their way to rallying.
Down 16-11 at the half, FSHS looked like a different team in the third quarter. Senior guard Sarah Craft went to work, scoring nine of the Firebirds' 12 points to lead the team to a 23-all tie after three.
In the early seconds of the fourth, FSHS took its second lead of the game when Chantay Caron knocked in a jumper. She also scored a layup on the next possession and finished with 10 points. Caron, Taylor Manning, Craft, Ashleigh Allam and Maggie Hull all scored in the quarter and Hull's two, her only points of the game, were crucial.
Down a bucket with under a minute left in regulation, Hull got a steal and a layup to tie the game at 38 and eventually force overtime.
The first OT featured a lot of stalling by FSHS when it got up by a few points and Manning scored three easy layups. Unfortunately for the Firebirds, that was right about when the T-Birds decided to show off their free throw skills.
SHHS shot 25-of-30 at the charity stripe on the night and 11-of-13 in the two overtimes. Duncan knew going into the game that free throws were a major strength of the opponent. Although FSHS went a respectable 4-of-6 in the extra periods and 13-of-19 for the game at the line, it was not enough.
"The ball bounces kind of funny sometimes," said Duncan, admitting that was a tad cliche. "But the ball did not bounce real well for us."
Sometimes balls bounce funny and other times whistles blow at peculiar times. The latter was the case at the end of the first overtime when FSHS was up, 45-42, and poised to pull off a victory. T-Birds guard Lacy Sparks hoisted a 3 with 1.6 ticks left and Hull was called for a foul on the shot attempt while contesting the desperation heave. Duncan, however, took the high road when asked about the foul call.
"I'm not looking to get fined," Duncan said with a wry smile. "We're not going to blame officiating. We could have got separation earlier in the game. Maybe we shouldn't have had anybody near a shooter, but that was to tie it."
Sparks, to her credit, calmly drained all three freebies, including the final one following a Duncan time out.
The T-Birds free throw prowess continued in the final overtime as they hit six of eight.
"They just hit a few more free throws," Duncan said. "Once they got the lead in that last overtime, their ability to shoot free throws really allowed them to keep that lead. If we weren't able to get a steal they were going to be able to put us away at the free throw line ... and they did."
The Firebirds go right back to the hardwood this afternoon against Topeka Seaman in Bonner Springs at 2:45.