Salina Although Tonganoxie High's game against Abilene wasn't the fast-paced meeting that was anticipated in the first-round matchup of the Class 4A girls state basketball tournament, Tonganoxie's bench still was the key factor in its 45-36 victory.
"Survive and advance," Tonganoxie coach Randy Kraft said. "Not the tempo we wanted to play. Shots didn't fall and really didn't allow us to get into the game we like to play, but right now, we live to fight tomorrow."
As Ali Pistora, the Chieftains' leading scorer for the season, struggled to find her groove at the offensive end of the court in the first half, Tongie found itself in a tight game throughout the first half.
With the absence of Pistora's offensive output in the first two quarters and part of the third, the Chieftains turned to starter Elizabeth Baska, who scored seven of her 10 points in the first half, and their top three reserves. Christy Weller, Chrissie Jeannin and Tracie Hileman combined for 11 points in the first three quarters.
"In the second quarter, I thought we had them tired. We had some of their reserves on the floor, and we didn't take advantage of it," Kraft said. "And late in the third, when they started subbing, we did a better job of getting out and getting a couple of easy baskets and did a better job of getting on the boards and getting some put-backs."
Hileman was the spark Tongie needed coming out of halftime with a one-point lead. She sandwiched a basket between a pair of assists that put Tonganoxie back on top for the rest of the game.
"The bench was big - especially Tracie," Baska said. "She came out, and instead of just playing, she wanted to get everyone involved and wanted everyone to be up, and it really helps a lot. It was high-energy."
While Pistora had difficulty scoring early, she was a force on defense. The Tongie senior pulled down five defensive boards and came away with a game-high five steals.
Nevertheless, in the third and fourth quarters, Pistora finally began to produce in her normal fashion on offense, as she scored 11 of her game-high 13 points in the final 13 minutes of the game.
"We had a lead, and we just wanted to build on it, and the only way to do that is to keep running your offense and eventually get her down in the post, posted up," Kraft said of Pistora. "We got her in some one-on-one situations - they had been double-teaming her most of the game - and we got her down there, and we were lucky enough to find her in some one-on-one situations and took advantage of it."
Baska was no slouch on defense, either. The Chieftain junior shut down Abilene's 6-foot Gina Hullet to just two points in the last three quarters and allowed just six combined points for the Cowgirls' big girl.
"It was awesome. We weren't giving Liz a lot of help on her (Hullet)," Kraft said. "Early on, we were helping with her, and that limited her, but we were giving up some outside shots. And as the game went on, we just put Liz on an island and said, 'Defend her, and we'll get there if we can, but we've got to stop these guards from scoring on us.'"
Tonganoxie will face Colby in a semifinal at 6:30 tonight. Colby defeated Columbus, 63-53 in double overtime, to advance to round two of the tournament.
The winner will move on to the championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday. The other will play in a consolation match at noon Saturday against the loser of the Andover Central and Augusta semifinal.