Throughout the first two months of the season, Free State girls basketball coach Ted Juneau has referred to his team as a work in progress.
The Firebirds certainly showed their potential against Olathe South on Tuesday in a game that featured 15 lead changes, but they couldn’t flip the scoreboard once more in a 51-49 overtime loss in their home opener at FSHS.
“I think we’re progressing a lot and it’s starting to click,” said sophomore forward Haley Hippe, who had 16 points and six rebounds.
The Firebirds held a 42-39 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but went scoreless for four minutes with four missed shots and two turnovers. The shots were at the rim, but “the basketball gods are rolling it out instead of rolling it in,” Juneau said.
Down by a point with under a minute left, Hippe sunk two free throws for a one-point lead. Olathe South’s Izzy Pierce followed with a short shot from just outside the paint with 12 seconds left.
After timeouts from both sides, Free State senior Erin Cushing couldn’t convert on a shot in the lane but freshman Shannon Clarke was fouled on a put-back attempt. Clarke missed her first free throw and made the second to force overtime.
The Falcons (7-1, 4-0 in Sunflower League) never trailed in overtime. They won the jump ball and scored on their first two possessions. Free State (0-7, 0-3) closed within one point when sophomore point guard Caely Kesten (12 points) made a layup and Hippe made two more free throws.
“As soon as they win that first one, they’ll knock the door down,” Juneau said. “They may never lose again. I really feel that way.”
The Falcons held the game’s biggest lead — six points — at the beginning of the second half. Free State responded with a 9-0 run, which included six straight points from Hippe in the paint.
The Firebirds turned the ball over 22 times, but they were efficient when they worked their way into layups. Plus, their defense held Olathe South to 35 percent shooting by packing the paint and forcing jump shots.
“We knew we needed to pick up our game and just play how we know we play,” Hippe said. “Sadly, we came up short but I think that we’re improving a whole lot.’
The Firebirds had another 9-2 run in the fourth quarter, sparked by a 3-pointer from junior guard Sam Lawrence (nine points, eight rebounds). Clarke added a four points in the spurt.
But that's when the Firebirds' offense stalled until Hippe's free throws with 51 seconds left.
“We battled them hard,” Juneau said. “I feel bad for the kids. But at the same time, I’m really proud of their effort and what they did.”
Olathe South (51)
Izzy Pierce 4-7 1-2 9, Sophie Reed 2-7 1-3 5, Caroline Harshbarger 8-10 3-5 21, Dani Winslow 3-25 0-0 8, Lauren Harder 0-0 0-0 0, Remy Braun 0-1 3-6 3, Aaliyah Pierce 2-3 1-4 5, Lydia Rhoades 0-1 0-0 0, Kate Schmidt 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-54 9-20 51.
Free State (49)
Sam Lawrence 3-5 2-2 9, Caely Kesten 5-10 1-2 12, Shannon Clarke 1-3 3-4 5, Haley Hippe 5-13 6-7 16, Erin Cushing 1-5 1-2 3, Mayela Edwards 0-3 4-4 4, Erin McClorey 0-0 0-0 0, Joy Nunoo 0-0 0-0 0, Evie Harrell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-39 17-21 49.
O-South 7 11 14 13 6 — 51
Free State 4 10 19 12 4 — 49
Three-point goals: O-South 4-16 (Harshbarger 2, Winslow 2); Free State 2-8 (Lawrence, Kesten). Fouled out: I. Pierce. Turnovers: O-South 12, Free State 22.