Emporia As Lauren Kimball reached for a steal, she quickly realized she wasn't going to come up with the basketball with about 10 seconds remaining in overtime - potential trouble.
The Free State High senior guard stuck with the play, though, and made arguably the biggest rebound of her career off a missed jumper by Morgan Barrett that could have given Washburn Rural the lead.
With the Firebirds protecting a one-point lead, the Lady Blues immediately fouled Kimball with nine seconds left to stop the clock and send her to the foul line. One problem for Washburn Rural: The fans at White Auditorium appeared more nervous than Kimball, who calmly sank both shots like she was playing a game of "21" with longtime friends in the back yard.
Washburn Rural couldn't covert a three-pointer on the following possession, sealing a 56-53 Free State overtime victory Thursday night in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs.
"Free throws won the game for us," Kimball said of the Firebirds' 20-of-23 effort from the foul line. "We practice them every day in practice, and if we don't make them, we run. Tonight, if we don't make them, we lose."
The victory represented a plethora of firsts for the Free State girls team. Thursday was the first time Free State ever defeated Washburn Rural. It was also the first time the Firebirds won a state playoff game in their 10-year history.
"I'm usually not speechless, but right now I am," Free State coach Bryan Duncan said. "We beat a great program on the biggest stage at state."
Free State will face Wichita Heights (22-1) in the semifinals at 3 p.m. today.
After Washburn Rural scored four points to start the overtime period, Free State didn't panic. The Firebirds went on a 7-0 run to end the game - five of those points came at the charity stripe.
Before Kimball sealed the game, senior guard Jenna Brantley stepped to the line with about a minute left and sank two free throws to give Free State a lead it kept the rest of the game.
"That was probably the calmest I was all night, quite frankly, because the ball was stopped," Duncan said. "Those seniors have been making big shots for us all year. That didn't surprise us at all."
Although the stat sheet suggested otherwise, Brantley (7-of-7 from the foul line) wasn't exactly as confident at the foul line. Her two free throws rolled around much of the circumference of the rim before falling.
"It rolled around the basket and my stomach absolutely dropped," Brantley said. "I was pretty scared. I turned around and looked at Lauren (Kimball). She just made me laugh and I started singing in my head and focused on making that free throw."
Brantley led all scores with 19, including 15 in the first half. It was evident Brantley had the Lady Blues confused for the majority of the game.
For instance, she opened the second half with a layup off a slashing move past two defenders from the left wing. On Free State's next offensive possession, Brantley drove to the basket and found senior forward Jessica Scott for a 15-foot jump shot. Brantley had the court awareness to recognize the defense stepping toward her. Scott was wide open.
Free State led by 11 at halftime, but Washburn Rural went on a 10-1 run in the fourth quarter.
"We had that on the board as one of the keys to the game - composure," Duncan said. "We knew they were going to make a run. There was no doubt about it."
When asked if defeating Washburn Rural was Brantley's sweetest basketball victory ever, her response came quickly.
"It's the sweetest victory, but I want the sweetest victory to be in the championship game," Brantley said.
With the girls victory, the Free State girls and boys basketball programs will play in the Final 4 of their respective brackets today.