Free State girls push past LHS to end 5-game skid in City Showdown
The story of the first installment of the city showdown of 2019 could have easily been the age-old tale of Free State walking up to its intercity rivals, Lawrence High, and running away with an upset. To some of the students in the stands, it may have been, but to the girls on the court, it most definitely was not.
As the Firebirds danced and hugged in celebration on the floor of Lawrence High school following a 42-34 win, Free State junior Haley Hippe needed to give a hug to one more person: her best friend, LHS senior Hannah Stewart.
“I don’t want to say it,” Hippe said, complemented by a lost voice and a laugh. “I love my team, but I love her, too. … I’m glad we got to play each other for the last time.”
Free State (8-9, 3-6 Sunflower League) took down once-ranked Lawrence High (9-7, 4-4) Monday night at LHS. The Firebirds had not defeated the Lions in the last five tries, and no Firebird on the varsity roster had beaten LHS before.
“I love the fact that we worked as a team and that we worked together on defense and on offense,” Hippe said. “Getting that win not only boosted our confidence, but brought us together. We’re all super pumped.”
It didn’t take long for the Lions to start making their shots. Leslie Ostronic hit a basket and a 3-pointer to lead the Lions in points after the first quarter. Responding to a small deficit, the Firebirds took their first lead of the game with a 3-pointer by Sam Lawrence. The Lions would tie the game at the game back at 18 at the half.
As neither team’s 3-point shots were going in, it quickly became a battle at the post between the Lions’ leading scorer senior Chisom Ajekwu and sophomore Shannon Clarke. At times, Hippe would double-team Ajekwu and grab a key offensive rebound.
Complemented by a false buzzer countdown from the Lion’ student section, Lawrence ignored it to hit a 3-pointer to end the third quarter, up 29-26. To start the second, the Firebirds won possession and quickly scored on a 3-pointer by Clarke off a drawn-up play.
Hippe would go on to have a rough day from the field to make 1 of 11, missing both her tries from the charity strip, but was able to effectively limit Ajekwu to an off-shooting night inside and limit Stewart from behind the arc to 4 points on the night with one triple.
“Shannon had the primary responsibility on Chisom because of her length and her ability to jump,” Free State coach Ted Juneau said. “We also wanted to make sure she full-fronted her. They had to make perfect passes to get over her, than we wanted to make sure we had one, maybe two, people on the backside.”
As the Firebirds began to get fouled out of desperation with the Lions down just 3 points and within a possession, freshman Evy Harrell sank a game-decisive free throw to put the Lions up by 4. On her miss, the Firebirds were able to offensive-rebound and force LHS to foul again. This continued twice more, and the Firebirds forced a timeout with 40 seconds on the clock, up 7 to seal the win.
The Lions were led by Ajekwu inside 15 points on 7 of 14 shots. Leslie Ostronic and Sophie DeWitt each hit a first half triple, and Ostronic scored a team-second 7 points.
DeWitt would nab a pair of assists on the night, senior Sammy Williams would block Clarke in the first quarter, and Ostronic caused three steals. The Lions forced seven turnovers, but didn’t score any in fast break off them.
The Lions have now lost two in a row.
“We were capable of pulling off the win, and certainly had numerous opportunities,” LHS head coach Jeff Dickson said. “That’s a team we know is extremely talented when they’re hitting on all cylinders, they’re tough to beat. We weren’t quite hitting on all cylinders.”
The Lions will travel to face Shawnee Mission Northwest at 5:30 Tuesday. Free State will travel to face Olathe West at 5:30 Tuesday, as well.
Free State (42)
Evy Harrell 1-1 3-6 6; Shannon Clarke 6-10 1-2 15; Sam Lawrence 3-6 0-1 9; Caely Kesten 4-10 2-4 10; Haley Hippe 1-11 0-2 2; Joy Nunoo 0-1 0-0 0; Hope Wheeler-Halstead 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 15-39 6-15 42.
Hannah Stewart 1-7 1-3 4; Leslie Ostronic 3-6 0-0 7; Sammy Williams 2-6 0-1 4; Sophie DeWitt 1-8 0-0 3; Chisom Ajekwu 7-14 1-5 15; Ella Stewart 0-3 1-2 1; Evann Seratte 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 14-46 3-11 34.
Free State 6 12 11 13 – 42
Lawrence 9 9 8 8 – 34
3-point goals: Free State: 6-14 (Lawrence 3, Clarke 2, Harrell); Lawrence: 3-20 (Stewart, Ostonic, DeWitt). Turnovers: Free State 7, Lawrence 12. Fouled Out: DeWitt (4Q).