By Todd Fertig
WICHITA -- Washburn Rural watched a big first-half lead slowly evaporate, finally losing it in the final seconds, as the Junior Blues came just one point short of repeating as Class 6A champs, falling to Blue Valley North 35-34 Saturday night at Koch Arena.
Blue Valley North claimed its fourth state championship by dropping two free throws with 17 seconds left, which gave the Mustangs their first lead since midway through the first period.
Blue Valley North then raced to the other end to thwart a last-ditch charge to the basket by Washburn Rural’s Chloe Carlgren.
With just a few ticks left on the clock, Washburn Rural coach Kevin Bordewick opted not to take a time out, instead letting his team try to make a play. Carlgren drove the baseline and put up a jumper in a crowd that fell just short.
“My mindset was that usually you can get a good look, and I thought we had a decent look,” Bordewick said of the final play. “I would like to have seen if we could go to the free throw line in that case, because I really felt like there was some contact there. But they didn’t call it and we have to live with that.
"I think that a lot of times we’ve been successful just going and creating something. I thought Chloe had a good run at it.”
The Junior Blues reflected following the game on how close they came to repeating as champions. After losing Division I signee Emma Krueger from last year's championship team to graduation and the midseason injury of star guard Zoe Canfield, Rural defied expectations just to be in the title game.
“There’s no way we should be here. There’s just flat no way,” Bordewick said. “After Zoe went down, it was a huge blow. It’s a credit to our seniors and the leadership and mentorship they gave our younger ones. And our younger ones had the work ethic and desire and the passion to get to this point.”
Senior Brooklyn DeLeye nearly led the Junior Blues to another basketball title to go with a volleyball championship. She finished the game with 14 points, 12 rebounds, and a lot of memories.
“I’m so proud of how we overcame adversity. So many obstacles, and of course, no one believed in us,” DeLeye said. “To get to the championship is a spectacular thing to do. We may have been a young team, but everyone stepped up into their role. We were just sisters throughout the season.”
Blue Valley North had to claw back from a deep hole. A 12-1 run put the Junior Blues up 20-6 late in the second period, fueled by nine points in the stretch from DeLeye.
The Mustangs mustered a seven-point run of their own to cut the deficit to 20-13 at halftime.
Washburn Rural scored the first four points of the second half. But the Mustangs mounted another charge that shifted the momentum to their side for good. Blue Valley North shaved the Junior Blues’ lead to 26-25 at the end of the third period. The Junior Blues were forced to sit DeLeye for three minutes due to fouls during the quarter.
“We were trying to protect Brooklyn a little bit,” Bordewick said. “Not having her in there all the time affects us. She never comes out.
“I don’t know if we were extra passive (in the second half). We had some looks. We didn’t finish plays. We turned it over a little bit too much.”
At the defensive end, the Junior Blues started giving up points in the paint. The Mustangs owned a height advantage, with several players standing at least 6-foot. In the first half, Washburn Rural outscored the Mustangs 10-8 in the lane. But after halftime, Blue Valley North outscored Washburn Rural 18-4 on paint points.
“There were some things we didn’t do quite as well as in the first half,” Bordewick said. “They may have made some adjustments. But we had some assignments that we just didn’t quite carry out.”
The biggest difference between the halves was the production of Mustang sophomore Logan Lynne Parks. Parks was scoreless in the first half, with the Junior Blues sagging off of her on the perimeter. But in the second half, Parks began driving to the hole and hit six shots in the final 10 minutes.
“We were trying to make sure she didn’t score inside,” Bordewick said. “I think we got rubbed off on some picks and didn’t help off. We knew she was good on the inside. We wanted to keep her on the outside and that way Brooklyn could help off on defense.”
The Junior Blues clung desperately to the dwindling lead. Missed free throws didn’t help. The Junior Blues went eight of 19 from the line, just four of nine in the fourth period. They converted just one of two attempts on their final two trips to the line, scoring for the last time with 0:45 left. Parks scored a bucket, and then Blue Valley North’s Nyla Hale hit the two free throws to take the lead with 17 seconds left.
The only thing left was one last shot that went begging.
“It’s a game of little things that build up,” Bordewick said. “It’s not the play that happened at the end. It’s what happened through the whole entire game. We gave up a (14-point lead). What can we do to fix that? That’s on us.
“We had a chance. It was right there. It’s my fault as a coach I didn’t have them better prepared for in-game situations. That’s my fault.”
DeLeye, a Kentucky volleyball commit, reflected on how the Junior Blues’ volleyball team was upset at state in 2021 before it won the 2022 title. The feeling on Saturday evoked similar pain.
“Losing like that, no one wants to experience that,” DeLeye said. “There’s no sugar coating it. You get second, it’s ‘first loser’ as I like to say. But you have got to just use it as motivation. I know these girls will take that motivation. I know they never want to experience that again, so they’re going to come out with a fight next year.”
Bordewick praised this group for the intangibles that helped them overcome their limitations.
“It’s the mental aspect that I’m most proud of with this group,” Bordewick said. “It’s all about chemistry. We really do care about each other. We treat each other right. These girls really came together as a group.”
BLUE VALLEY NORTH GIRLS 35, WASHBURN RURAL 34
Washburn Rural 7 13 6 8 – 34
Blue Valley 5 8 12 10 -- 35
Washburn Rural (18-6) – Lutz 0-8 0-2 0, Hinck 2-9 1-6 5, Carlgren 1-7 5-6 8, Bunck 2-6 1-3 7, DeLeye 6-9 1-2 14, Ochs 0-2 0-0 0. Totals : 11-41 8-19 34.
Blue Valley North (21-4) – Park 6-9 0-1 12, Hale 1-5 4-7 6, Shaw 2-6 0-0 4, J. Davis 3-4 3-6 9, T. Davis 1-3 0-0 2, Alverson 1-5 0-0 2, Gregory 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 14-32 7-14 35.
3-point goals – Washburn Rural 4 (Bunck 2, Carlgren 1, DeLeye 1), Blue Valley North 0. Total fouls – Washburn Rural 13, Blue Valley North 17. Fouled out – None. Technical fouls – None.