Late surge lifts LHS girls past SM East
Eventually, Lawrence High girls basketball coach Jeff Dickson figured, one of the teams would piece together a run Wednesday night in “The Jungle.”
After three quarters went by with no separation for either the Lions or visiting Shawnee Mission East, Dickson knew whichever team’s players proved mentally and physically tougher down the stretch would secure the coveted sub-state victory.
Even on a night when LHS played without its leading scorer, the Lions turned a tie game in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter into a 60-48 playoff victory.
Dickson likened it to a “game of chicken, or a staring contest.” The No. 2 seed, Lawrence proved both fearless and patient in crunch time, putting together a 12-2 run in a critical three-minute stretch.
“Our kids,” Dickson said, “didn’t blink.”
Although SME (4-17) scored the first two baskets of the fourth, the Lions (12-9) had no problems coming up with a counter. Juniors Olivia Lemus and Skylar Drum made sure the Lions kept attacking the Lancers off the dribble, as they had all game, and East eventually wore down.
Lemus, who scored five of her game-high 22 points in the fourth, said LHS got comfortable late, in the program’s first home playoff game since 2008, when LHS won the Class 6A state title.
“I think we finally calmed down,” Lemus said after Lawrence’s fifth straight victory. “We did not want to go home. We wanted this game.”
LHS freshman center Chisom Ajekwu, who often controlled the paint, and put up 19 points, eight rebounds and four blocks, said once SME tied the game at 41, the Lions found it within themselves to respond.
“We knew that we couldn’t let them go up, that we couldn’t let them start having a run,” the 6-foot-3 Ajekwu said. “We started pushing ourselves harder and driving the ball more and making them foul us when we went to the basket.”
Lawrence, playing without injured sophomore E’lease Stafford, the team’s leading scorer, shot 9-for-17 at the foul line in the fourth, as the home team pulled away, setting up a 7 p.m. Friday sub-state championship game against Shawnee Mission West at LHS.
“It doesn’t feel the same without E’lease,” Ajekwu said, “but then again we won it for her. We all stepped up and did it for her.”
Lemus took on the scoring load in the second quarter, when she made all four of her field-goal attempts, hit a three-pointer and two free throws and accounted for 11 of Lawrence’s 15 points.
Dickson said Lemus might be known as more of a shooter, but the junior is just an aggressive offensive player.
“We try to coach ’em up, just to take what the defense gives you, and they were sagging off so they could help on Chisom,” Dickson said, “so we needed to put the ball on the floor a little bit more, and she did a tremendous job.”
After missing three from beyond the arc in the opening minutes, Lemus changed her game plan.
“First quarter, I kind of got a little frustrated with myself because I didn’t hit a couple of shots,” she said, “but I knew that if I wasn’t seeing my three-point shot go through I could take it to the rack. I just looked for my lane to drive.”
The Lions have a chance to return to the Class 6A state tournament for the first time since 2008 with a Friday home win over SMW. The Vikings prevailed, 58-56, in an overtime game at LHS on Jan. 12.
SM EAST (48)
Josephine Clough 2-6 3-4 8, Kyle Haverty 9-16 0-2 19, Jordan Yowell 2-9 1-2 5, Sofia Stechschulte 2-8 0-0 5, Emma Linscott 4-8 0-0 8, Madison Mustoe 0-0 0-0 0, Quincy Bair 0-2 0-0 0, Lillian Flint 1-5 0-0 3, Toni Englund 0-3 0-0 0.Totals 20-57 4-8 48.
Hannah Stewart 3-9 0-1 7, Olivia Lemus 7-14 7-8 22, Skylar Drum 3-6 1-2 7, Talima Harjo 1-5 1-4 3, Chisom Ajekwu 8-8 3-5 19, Gracie Reinsch 0-1 0-0 0, Leslie Ostronic 0-1 0-0 0, Asia Goodwin 0-1 0-0 0, Alexis Boyd 0-0 2-2 2.Totals 22-45 14-22 60.
SM East 16 11 10 11 — 48
Lawrence 15 15 11 19 — 60
Three-point goals: SME 4-20 (Clough, Haverty, Stechschulte, Flint); LHS 2-18 (Stewart, Lemus).Turnovers: SME 6, LHS 12.