OLATHE — The play should’ve brought Free State all the momentum.
With just seconds remaining in the first quarter of the Firebirds’ 45-36 loss during the first round of the Lady Hawks Basketball Classic, Blue Valley’s Katie Beth Jones barreled down the court in transition with only one defender between her and the basket. That defender, Free State freshman Shannon Clarke, stood in and drew a charge, bringing her teammates to their feet with less than a tenth of a second remaining in the half.
The clock operator knocked off the final tick and the buzzer sounded for a quick intermission. By the time the teams were back on the floor, though, the pendulum had already swung the other way.
“This is what seems to happen to us right now,” said Free State coach Ted Juneau.
The “this” Juneau spoke of referred to a 20-4 Tigers run that began with about 4-and-a-half minutes to go in the second quarter.
After Mayela Edwards scored to put the Firebirds in front, 16-12, the offense fell flat. In fact, the Firebirds would not score over the remainder of the half, finishing the period down 21-16 on the heels of a Tigers 9-0 run.
"We just all need to step back and just breathe," said junior Sam Lawrence, who led the team at the half with seven points. "And then go."
The Firebirds could've led by even more after the first quarter, considering they committed six turnovers in the frame and had still doubled up their opponent, 12-6. Instead, that area continued to be a problem. The Firebirds were again without sophomore point guard CK Kesten.
In the third quarter, the Firebirds committed five more turnovers, including three on consecutive possessions. Even after ending their scoreless drought at nearly six minutes on a 2-point jumper from Clarke, they couldn't capitalize.
"We've just got to get more consistency offensively," Juneau said. "We just sputter too much, just kind of rudderless at times."
All in all, it was a 20-4 run by the Tigers (1-1) that put the game out of reach.
Lawrence, who started the game strong, finished with 11 points. Haley Hippe made three of her final four shots and added two free throws in the fourth quarter to finish with 10. Clarke rounded out the leading scorers with eight.
The problem for Free State, though, was that it never all came together.
"We're adjusting as best as we can," said Lawrence. "We're really trying. All of us are really trying to step up our game."
After the game, Juneau maintained his confidence in his team. While he said they need to do a better job identifying their own shooters at the right time, he noted there were still plenty of positives despite the 0-2 start to the season.
"We came out defensively to set the tone, and I thought we did that. We got some good movement, we got some good shots," Juneau said. "I was real pleased with how well we rebounded the ball, at times I thought we played pretty good defense, but we just get stagnated on offense so much.
"I'm disappointed, but I'm not discouraged. As I told the girls, we'll be all right, and we'll continue to get better."
BLUE VALLEY (45)
Macie Lawrence 1-13 0-0 3, Jenna Anderson 1-4 0-0 2, Olivia Gurley 2-5 0-0 5, Katie Beth Jones 2-7 0-0 5, Catherine Szukalski 9-16 0-0 21, Abby Wolf 0-2 0-0 0, Taylor Tschirhart 2-7 0-0 4, Jazzy Klinge 2-5 1-2 5. Totals: 19-59 1-2 45.
FREE STATE (36)
Sam Lawrence 4-12 1-2 11, Shannon Clarke 4-10 0-0 8, Haley Hippe 4-10 2-4 10, Mayela Edwards 2-12 0-0 5, Erin Cushing 0-2 2-2 2, Liliana Keathley 0-1 0-0 0, Evy Harrell 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 14-48 5-8 36.
Blue Valley 6 15 18 6 — 45
Free State 12 4 9 11 — 36
Three-point goals: Blue Valley 6-17 (Szukalski 3, Lawrence, Gurley, Beth Jones 1); Free State 3-12 (Lawrence 2, Edwards 1). Turnovers: Blue Valley 14, Free State 16.