With 13 seconds left and the game tied at 70, Ron McHenry, Washburn head women’s basketball coach, drew a play during the time-out for No. 13, Jessica Mainz, sophomore guard. Mainz didn’t disappoint, drawing a foul and hitting the second of two free throws securing the Lady Blues’ 71-70 victory over No. 1 seed Missouri Western, and their third straight MIAA tournament championship.
“How many people run a play to their soccer player at the end of the game,” said McHenry. “I don’t really mind at all having the ball in Mainz’ hands with the game on the line.”
Mainz, the 2006 MIAA MVP and a second team All-American in soccer, hit the free throw moments after Ashleigh Curry, junior Griffon guard, hit a shot over her to tie the game at 70 with 20 seconds left. With time expiring, Tiffany Davis, Griffon senior guard, threw up a last prayer response from inside the arc that hit the rim and missed securing the Lady Blues their ninth consecutive MIAA tournament game win.
“[Curry] had just made one on me and [McHenry] asked me if I wanted to get her back and I knew I had to take it to the glass,” said Mainz. “I missed the first one and everybody just gave me a lot of confidence and I knew I could hit the second one.”
The Lady Blues’ victory all but secured them a No. 2 seed in the South Central Regional held March 9, 10 and 12 in St. Joseph, Mo. After losing the regular season conference championship to Missouri Western, Brooke Ubelaker, Lady Blues senior forward, who was a member of all three MIAA tournament championship teams, explains it’s nice to go on to the regional as the top team in conference.
“We’ve done it the last couple years but to go out my senior year winning it was pretty exciting,” said Ubelaker. “We wanted another chance at [Western] since they beat us twice.”
But the Griffons almost secured victory number three over the Lady Blues Sunday, despite trailing by 21 at one point. The Lady Griffons outscored the Lady Blues 46-29 in the second half, a half that saw eight lead changes and six ties.
“Those threes were coming down fast,” said McHenry. “That was the scary part. If you lose a lead it usually takes a long time but it came very quickly. It really comes down to players stopping runs.”
The Griffons hit seven shots from beyond the arc after a timid first half shooting a lousy 39 percent from the field and turned the ball over 12 times which allowed the Lady Blues to take a commanding 42-24 lead at half.
“The first half we played awfully good,” said McHenry. “We shot the ball well. We played really well defensively, we were just aware. The only shots they missed were getting rebounded. We were aware and awake and caught them standing around a little bit.”
But perhaps what stood out the most was over an eight and a half-minute stretch where the Griffons didn’t hit a shot from the field. Inga Buzoka, Griffon senior center, hit a bucket with 9:37 left in the first half to cut the Lady Blues lead to 23-15. The next Griffon bucket didn’t come until 51 seconds left in the first half when Curry hit a three to cut the Lady Blues’ lead to 39-21. The lull gave the Lady Blues enough padding to stop a determined and quick Griffon run.
“The last couple of years we have been the favorite,” said McHenry. “It means a lot to us because this is a great league. When you match up with some of the best teams in the country in a three-day run that’s pretty special.”
Lady Blues juniors handle Emporia
Despite having a group of seniors that had won two straight MIAA tournament championships prior, it was two Lady Blues juniors that stepped up in their physical victory against the Emporia State Lady Hornets 73-61 in Saturday’s semifinal game.
Amanda Holmes, junior forward who was named to the MIAA All-tournament team, raked in a career-high 22 points and Corkey Stiger, junior guard and tournament MVP, had a tremendous first half that gave the Lady Blues some leeway when the Lady Hornets made their typical run in the second half.
“Typical Washburn-Emporia game, really good players getting after each other,” said McHenry. “We had a really good first half. Corkey shot the ball pretty well and Amanda gave us pretty good post presence.”
Stiger cashed in 16 points in the first half, going 4 of 6 from beyond the arc.
“I started to get a little hot and they just kept coming to me,” said Stiger. “We have that type of communication if somebody is hot, keep it coming to them. I just tried to work hard and do what I had to do.”
Stiger hit all four treys late in the first half, including a stretch of three in a row and one more crucial one to end the half answering a good 3-point attempt from Michelle Stueve, junior Lady Hornet, to put the Lady Blues on top 40-32.
“Corkey’s first half was one I’ve only seen from a few players and they are All-American kids,” said McHenry. “That first half really got us over the hump.”
But the Lady Hornets were not about to go away quietly. The Lady Hornets outscored the Lady Blues 13-10 in the first eight minutes of the second half cutting the Lady Blue lead to just five. However the Lady Blues had an answer in Holmes, whether it was from the low block or the free-throw line, Holmes was going to score.
“My shots just happened to fall tonight and I’m very grateful that they did,” said Holmes. “It’s always hard to go out against Emporia they are a great team and they work hard. I am extremely proud of my team.”
Holmes recorded 10 of her career-high 22 points from the charity stripe. The Lady Hornets sent the Lady Blues to the free throw line 22 times hitting 20 of them. In the end, post play and turnover ratio is what made the difference, according to Brandon Schneider, Emporia State head coach.
“I thought the difference was they won the battle in the paint, especially in terms of post play,” said Schneider. “Their post players finished a little bit better around the basket than ours. Obviously they played well enough to create a tremendous disparity at the free-throw line.”