Name something that could go wrong for a team leading by double digits entering the fourth quarter, and it probably happened to Free State High’s girls basketball team Tuesday night at home against Leavenworth.
Free State girls v. Leavenworth
Images from Tuesday night's game against Leavenworth at Free State High School.
The Firebirds’ sixth man, junior Millie Shade, spent part of halftime vomiting and wasn’t herself. Junior forward Scout Wiebe suffered a blow to the head and left the court early in the fourth quarter to spend the closing minutes in the athletic trainer’s room. Senior guard A’Liyah Rogers picked up her fourth foul. Even the legs of the team leader, senior guard Kennedy Kirkpatrick, cramped up. All the while, the Pioneers were playing their best basketball of the night, opening the fourth quarter with nine straight points to cut the FSHS lead to five.
Somehow, Kirkpatrick, Rogers and Chelsea Casady found a way to lead Free State to a 63-58 victory.
“We had all kinds of adversity thrown at us,” Firebirds coach Bryan Duncan said following his team’s seventh straight win, “and our opponent was playing really well at the moment. It would’ve been easy to fold, but I thought that’s where our leadership came through and made some big-time plays.”
With Leavenworth (9-6) as close as it had been since trailing 26-21 at halftime, Duncan called a timeout with 6:34 to play and the Firebirds (12-3) began to regroup. Casady scored her fifth basket of the night with a drive to the paint. Then Kirkpatrick followed suit with a layup after an LHS free throw, and Free State led 50-42.
Pioneers sophomore forward Tashia Jones scored 11 of her game-best 23 points in the final eight minutes, but the Firebirds held off the Pioneers with Kirkpatrick scoring seven of her team-high 17 points in the same stretch.
A steal and layup by LHS senior guard Rashayla Mathis cut Free State’s advantage to 55-51 with 2:07 left, but Kirkpatrick answered with another layup. Fiffteen seconds later, Rogers swiped the ball from the Pioneers, spun on her way to the hoop and scored a lay-in, extending the FSHS lead to 59-51.
Rogers hit a pair of free throws with 48 seconds left and Kirkpatrick and Casady each went one-for-two at the foul line in the final minute to give their team just enough cushion for the win.
“I thought it was a real gutsy performance by our team,” Duncan said after Leavenworth’s near comeback.
Free State’s balance — Casady had 14 points, Wiebe scored 13, Rogers added 12 and Shade scored seven to compliment Kirkpatrick’s 17 — proved critical.
Kirkpatrick said FSHS definitely grew as a team, because twice this year it had blown 10-point, fourth-quarter leads in similar games.
Though Wiebe basically played three quarters before getting hurt, she had had a double-double, with 10 rebounds and four steals to go with 13 points.
“Scout was everywhere tonight,” Kirkpatrick said, “and obviously we missed her in that fourth quarter, but I thought she played a really good game. She kept those big girls off the boards and we knew they were gonna be a challenge from the beginning.”
Free State puts its win streak on the line Friday at home against Olathe South, ranked No. 1 in Class 6A.