‘It’s like a Disney movie’: LHS shows unselfish fight and grit despite 39-28 loss to SM West
Whether it’s been injuries or youth, Lawrence High has had to learn on the fly all season.
And in the Lions’ final regular-season game Friday — a 39-28 loss to Shawnee Mission West — players had to step up once again.
“I thought we played fantastic,” LHS coach Jeff Dickson said. “I thought we showed more heart and grit, something we’ve been wanting to see all year long. That’s what you get at Lawrence High. I feel like we grew 75 levels just tonight with the effort and the grit that we showed.”
This time it was senior guard Lexi Dutcher leading the way with a team-high 9 points, coming off three straight triples in the fourth quarter.
“I tried to keep my mind clear and just shoot the ball,” Dutcher said. “Usually (LHS coach Jeff Dickson) says I’m out there to shoot, so I shoot.”
Freshman point guard Amaya Marshall was on crutches with a knee injury, and senior guards Ella Stewart (bronchitis) and Sophie DeWitt were both sidelined as well. DeWitt has been out with a knee injury since the Lions’ 54-50 loss to Gardner Edgerton on Jan. 21.
For Friday’s game, Dickson opted for a starting lineup of usual starters junior forward Ozi Ajekwu and sophomore guard Layla Harjo, along with senior forward Paiden Bell, freshman guard Hailey Ramirez and Dutcher.
Freshman guard Serenity Keo was originally slated to start, but told Dickson pregame that she wanted Dutcher to start her final home game instead.
“(Keo) gave up her starting spot so a senior who works her butt off gets another start on her home court,” Dickson said. “And then to have that senior come out and knock down big shots to help keep us in the game, it’s like a Disney movie. That’s what it’s all about.”
Dutcher was thankful for the gesture and proud to finish on a high note.
“It just was all good because it was our last home game,” Dutcher said. “It’s like bittersweet because I’m glad I shot it (so well), but it’s also sad because it’s the last time ever playing in The Jungle.”
The new lineup got off on the right foot, too, grabbing an early 3-0 lead after Harjo hit a 3-pointer from the left wing. But another nagging problem for this Lions team arose once again — turnovers.
LHS (5-15, 1-11 Sunflower League) committed 15 turnovers in the first half, finishing with 24 in the game. Despite this, the Lions were able to keep the Vikings’ lead at single digits at halftime, trailing 22-14.
SM West (15-5, No. 9 Class 6A) plays physical, with freshman guard S’mya Nichols, sophomore forward Taedyn Gray and junior forward Aiden Moxness all standing at 6-foot-2 or taller.
While height was certainly an advantage for the Vikings, the Lions were able to stay in the game early thanks to second-chance points, rebounding and hustle plays.
“We weren’t going to get bullied, we weren’t going to get shoved around no matter how many times they’d get a tied ball and roll over the top of us,” Dickson said. “Our kids kept fighting and they did it the right way.”
Ramirez hit a corner 3 off an inbounds play. Keo drove straight down the lane for a layup off a press break. Ajekwu (along with her sister freshman forward Geme Ajekwu) fought for rebounds inside.
Ozi Ajekwu even stayed in the game after an apparent back injury in the third quarter, after getting tangled up with Nichols down low. After Ajekwu decided to stay in the game, it was called an intentional foul and Ajekwu hit 1 of 2 free throws. That cut the lead to 22-17.
However, the Vikings then went on a 13-0 run to end the quarter and take a 35-17 lead. The Lions cut the lead back with Dutcher’s late 3-pointer barrage, but it wasn’t quite enough.
Still though, Dickson doesn’t view thia as a tough loss at all. He said the Lions made significant progress and showed that there is “a state championship in that locker room.”
“We’ve shown flashes of that (fight) all year long,” Dickson said. “We really grew up tonight. I think everybody has noticed the talent that we have and how young some of those kids are. And to see them put it together in a game against one of the top 10 teams in the state, it shows that we can literally do anything.”
LHS will next play on Tuesday in the semifinal round of substate.
Lawrence High (28)
Lexi Dutcher 3-3 0-0 9, Hailey Ramirez 2-10 1-2 6, Ozi Ajekwu 2-2 1-2 5, Paiden Bell 1-4 1-2 3, Layla Harjo 1-9 0-0 3, Serenity Keo 1-5 0-0 2, Geme Ajekwu 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 10-34 3-6 28.
Shawnee Mission West (39)
S’mya Nichols 8-12 6-6 22, Taedyn Gray 4-9 1-2 9, Ashlyn Henrie 1-3 0-0 3, Kierra Prin 1-7 0-0 2, CC Carter 1-8 0-0 2, Aiden Moxness 0-5 1-2 1, Olivia Morris 0-2 0-0 0, Aaliyah Garcia 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 15-47 8-10 39.
Lawrence High 7 7 3 11 — 28
Shawnee Mission West 16 6 13 4 — 39
3-point goals: LHS 5-16 (Dutcher, Harjo, Ramirez); SM West 1-16 (Henrie). Turnovers: LHS 24, SM West 8.