By RICK PETERSON
For the second time this season, top-ranked Topeka High stared defeat in the face against Washburn Rural and somehow found a way to continue the state's longest girls basketball winning streak Friday night, rallying from a 15-point deficit in the first half and 7 down in the fourth quarter to take a 59-53 overtime Centennial League victory at Rural.
"They clawed their way back in it. It wasn't pretty, but I'm proud of the girls for just always giving it their all,'' Topeka High coach Hannah Alexander said. "What I told them was I would bet on them any day, any time because when you count them out and you think they're done they'll show you they're not.
"That just shows the grittiness, the grind that they have, the fight that they have, and I wouldn't want to meet these girls on the floor because yeah, they might give you a few, but they're going to come right back at you.''
Topeka High, which won for the 39th straight time dating back to a loss to Rural in the 2019 Class 6A state championship game, had rallied in the final seconds of regulation for a 4-point win over the Junior Blues in the first meeting between the two 6A powers, and the deck was stacked against the Trojans again Friday after No. 3-ranked Rural took a 53-47 lead on two Emma Krueger free throws with just 40 seconds remaining in regulation.
But junior Tae Thomas banked in a 3-pointer to cut Rural's lead to 3 points with 12.5 seconds left and Topeka High junior star NiJaree Canady got her hands on the Junior Blues' inbounds pass to force a turnover.
The Trojans eventually got the ball to sophomore reserve Faith Shields, who drained a 3-pointer as time ran down to give Topeka High new life in overtime.
The Trojans, who improved to 16-0 overall and 13-0 in the league, took advantage of that opportunity, shutting out Washburn Rural in the extra session to take the victory.
"When we needed her she came through, right off the bench,'' Canady said of Shields. "She wasn't warm at all. She just came out and knew what she needed to do and she knocked it down.''
Canady, who finished with game-high totals of 19 points and 22 rebounds, blocked a shot on Rural's first possession of the OT and then scored at the 2:48 mark to give the Trojans their first lead since scoring the first 2 points of the night, also by Canady.
Senior Lilly Smith hit a pair of free throws with 58.4 seconds remaining and then scored the final points of the night with 30 ticks left on the scoreboard.
Senior Ja'Neysha Hendricks backed Canady with 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, while L. Smith scored all 9 of her points in the second half and OT and Thomas added 7 points, all in the fourth quarter.
Washburn Rural opened up a 16-4 first-quarter lead behind freshman Jada Ingram's 10 points before Topeka High cut its deficit to 30-24 at the half and 41-38 at the start of the fourth quarter.
"We knew we couldn't keep trading points at that point, we had to come back,'' Canady said. "And it took us a little while, but we finally did it.''
Sophomore Brooklyn DeLeye led Rural with 15 points and 8 rebounds while Ingram had 14 points, junior Emma Krueger 11 points and 8 rebounds and freshman Zoe Canfield 10 points, including a pair of 3s.
But Washburn Rural turned the ball over 15 times, including several crucial turnovers in the late going, and also missed 11 free throws.
"It's my fault because I'm not coaching them well enough to handle those situations in practice,'' Rural coach Kevin Bordewick said. "This game's on me as a coach. It ain't on them. I thought they gave great effort. We needed to take care of the ball a little bit better and maintain our composure better and kind of understand that when we're trying to run a little bit of clock that doesn't mean that we can't be in attack mode still.''
The Trojans and Junior Blues could square off for a third time this season next month, with both teams assigned to the same 6A sub-state.
"I know that we have more in us,'' Bordewick said. "We're looking forward to seeing them again.''
TOPEKA HIGH GIRLS 59, WASHBURN RURAL 53 (OT)
Topeka High 4 20 14 15 6 -- 59
Washburn Rural 16 14 11 12 0 -- 53
Topeka High (16-0, 13-0) -- L. Smith 3-7 2-2 9, Thomas 3-10 0-0 7, K. Smith 2-11 0-0 5, Hendricks 4-10 0-0 10, Canady 8-17 3-7 19, Lyons 3-3 0-0 6, Caryl 0-0 0-0 0, Shields1-3 0-0 3, Wiley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-65 5-9 59.
Washburn Rural (13-2, 10-2) -- Bagshaw 0-1 0-0 0, Lutz 1-5 0-2 3, Kruger 4-10 3-5 11, Ingram 6-7 2-6 14, DeLeye 4-10 6-7 15, Canfield 3-5 2-4 10, Hurtig 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-38 13-24 53.
3-point goals -- Topeka High 6 (Hendricks 2, L. Smith, Thomas, K. Smith, Shields), Washburn Rural 4 (Canfield 2, Lutz, DeLeye). Total fouls -- Topeka High 23, Washburn Rural 13. Fouled out -- Lyons.