Technically, Lawrence High’s girls basketball team has been the defending Class 6A champions all season. But the Lions know that the true title defense cannot start unless they actually get to this year’s state tournament.
That fact, along with much, much more, is what makes tonight’s 7:45 tipoff against Shawnee Mission West in the sub-state championship game at Free State High the Lions’ biggest game of the season.
LHS (10-11) reached this point with a 52-35 victory against Free State in Thursday’s first round. With the victory, the Lions avenged a loss to Free State in the regular-season finale a week earlier.
Tonight, LHS will look to keep the revenge train rolling against top-seeded SM West (17-4). West defeated the Lions, 48-44, on Feb. 13 at LHS.
The Lions know they’re more than capable of playing with West, even though they’ve lost the last two meetings, dating back to last season. LHS opened February’s meeting on a 17-8 run and led by as many as 10 in the second half. The Lions led, 41-36, with less than four minutes to play but managed just three points the rest of the way.
“It’s one of those things where you play the hand you’re dealt,” LHS coach Kristin Mallory said. “I think getting to play at Free State the other day and being comfortable in that gym very well could help us.”
So, too, Mallory said, could the fifth-seeded Lions’ role as the underdog.
In the first meeting between these two teams, senior Taylor Bird led LHS with 18 points and eight rebounds. Thursday, against Free State, Bird was part of a more balanced LHS attack, finishing with eight points and six rebounds. Jordyn Tolefree led the Lions with 13 points, Jasmyn Turner chipped in 12, Cassie Potter added 11, and Haley Parker scored six.
“If we play like we did (Thursday) the rest of the season, I think we can win state again,” Potter said. “We just have to play with intensity, and we have to play together.”