Free State girls outlast Leavenworth 49-42 in gutsy overtime win

The Firebirds celebrate as they are being presented with the third place trophy after a win over Leavenworth January 26.

In an electric finish, Free State High School came away with a 49-42 win over Leavenworth Saturday afternoon to earn third place in the Firebirds Winter Classic.

The Firebirds (5-7) finished 2-1 during their home tournament.

“A lot of teams never get a chance to play for a trophy,” Free State coach Ted Juneau recalled telling his players. “I think they are really proud of the fact that we didn’t win one last year, we were 0-3 in this tournament, I know that they were never going to let that happen again.”

With strong offensive outings from unlikely scorers, three Firebirds finished in the double digits with their scoring efforts. Shannon Clarke led the field with 22 points, while Evy Harrell and Haley Hippe each had 13.

Clarke credited Caely Kesten, who sat out the game with an ankle injury, for helping from the bench.

“When you were out on the court, you never stopped hearing (Kesten’s) voice on the bench,” Clarke said. “You heard nothing negative, it was always just positive, instructional things … She had a big impact, even though she wasn’t on the court.”

Trailing by only 3 at the end of both the first and second quarter, Juneau and the Firebirds needed to find a way of stopping leading scorer Aleshia Jones. After one basket in the first, Jones had 8 points in the second.

Lilliana Keathley and Joy Nunoo stepped up to defend the Pioneers top scorers and grab defensive rebounds. The Firebirds forced 20 turnovers with many steals coming from Clarke and senior Sam Lawrence, who impacted the game despite not scoring a single point.

“(Lawrence) held us together like glue,” Clarke said.

Free State tied the Pioneers at 23 three minutes into the third quarter with a basket by Hippe, taking a 33-30 lead by the end of the period. Forcing five turnovers, the Firebirds outscored the Pioneers 14-8. Clarke had 10 points with a key and-1 to take the lead.

Clarke didn’t slow down from behind the arc in the fourth quarter. She scored a key 3-pointer with under two minutes to push the Firebirds to the 40-point mark, which was enough to send the game to overtime.

“She’s really struggled behind the 3-point range, and every time we needed a big shot, she came up to hit that 3,” Juneau said. “We had a mismatch inside with her, we knew she could hold her inside. … It was a real quality offensive effort on her part in really all phases.”

Leavenworth (6-5) scored first in overtime with a field goal by McKenzie Brown, but the Firebirds locked down on defense to pull away with a 9-point stretch to end the game.

Clarke hit a 3-pointer with 1:45 to go to retake the lead, then ran to the other end of the court to grab a steal. Harrell was fouled on the ensuing possession, and sank both free throws to seal the win.

Her dominant game on offense comes after going 1 of 11 on Friday night, missing her last nine shots.

“When your struggling and in a shooting slump, it’s real easy to lose your confidence and get down on yourself,” Clarke said. “It makes you appreciate all the time you spend in the gym.”

Free State will play host to Olathe East at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Free State (49)

Evy Harrell 5-9 2-3 13, Shannon Clarke 6-15 7-9 22, Haley Hippe 6-9 1-2 13, Sam Lawrence 0-4 0-0 0, Joy Nunoo 0-1 1-2 1, Lilliana Keathley 0-0 0-0 0, Hope Wheeler-Halstead 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-38 11-16 49.

Leavenworth (42)

Aleshia Jones 5-12 4-4 14, Alychee Brown 3-11 2-4 11, Saniyah Hammonds 0-1 0-1 0, MicQuasha Riddle 3-10 4-6 11, McKenzie Brown 3-7 0-2 6, Kaylee Mclean 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-41 10-17 42.

Free State 7 12 14 7 OT 9 – 49

Leavenworth 10 12 8 10 OT 2 – 42

3-point field goals: Free State 4-8 (Clarke 3, Harrell), Leavenworth 4-17 (Brown 3, Riddle). Fouled Out: None. Turnovers: Free State 14, Leavenworth 20.


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