SALINA — Andover Central coach Stana Jefferson knew her girls were going to be a little awestruck to start Wednesday’s Class 4A Division I state quarterfinal against Paola.
The Jaguars struggled to start the first quarter, but settled down as the period went on and only trailed 8-7 at the end of the eight minutes.
“We came out really, really tight,” Jefferson said. “Which I kind of anticipated, just because none of the girls had been to a state tournament in basketball. Then, down the stretch, I told them, ‘You’re going to miss shots, but what you can rely on always is your defense.’ I thought that’s what they did to stay in the game and, when we took the lead, the offense started coming with the defense.”
Andover Central settled down and, at the 5:15 mark of the second quarter, took a 10-8 lead off a Katie Kretchmar bucket. By the time the 11-3 run was over, the Jaguars (19-4) had 19-14 halftime lead that they wouldn’t give up, despite a fourth quarter push by Paola, to punch their ticket into the 4A Division I semifinals Friday afternoon against No. 2 seed Bishop Miege.
The Jaguars got up by as much as 16 points in the third quarter, but the offensive intensity of Paola’s Tiana Maola got the Panthers back into the game as time was winding down, as she led a 9-3 run that closed the gap to eight points before time expired in the fourth, giving Andover Central the 58-50 win.
“We were going to stretch her and sandwich her from the help side,” Jefferson said of the defensive efforts to contain Maola. “We switch all our screens, so you worry a little about a mismatch. I think it happened one time the whole entire game.”
Jefferson credited junior Masen Stamp with providing the Jags with the spark they needed to keep Paola (19-4) at bay as they continued to fight for their season.
“I feel like Masen turned on a different gear tonight,” Jefferson said. “Which I was really surprised to see. And it was the entire game. She just gets better all the time and she’s becoming a mature, great leader for us.”
Stamp finished with 13 points, including a pair of three pointers. Senior Skyler Snodgrass led Andover Central with 16 points, while Kretchmar had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
It was an impressive performance for a group of girls that had never played in the high-pressure situation of a state tournament before.
“It was nerve wracking,” Stamp said. “But, after we got a couple of steals and started doubling down on their posts and getting the ball, we started to work.”
Andover Central finished the game shooting 41 percent from the floor, hitting 4-of-13 from three point. They were 50 percent from the foul line.
Maola led the Panthers with 16 points and 18 rebounds. Morgan Laudan also picked up a double-double with 14 points and 10 boards.
The Jaguars have a tall task ahead of them in the semifinals, as Bishop Miege, who advaned with a 62-45 win over McPherson in the early game, is considered by many to be the favorite to win the state championship on Saturday.
But don’t tell the Jaguars that.
“They’re good athletes,” Snodgrass said. “Really great athletes. Our coaches say to embrace every moment, so that’s what we’re going to try to do. I think we’ll do fine.”
Andover Central 58, Paola 50
Andover Central (19-4)
Stamp 5-8 1-4 13, Pedersen 2-7 2-2 7, Snodgrass 6-15 3-4 16, Schulte 3-10 2-7 8, Kretchmar 5-11 1-2 11, Kakoulias 1-3 1-1 3. Totals 22-54 10-20 58.
L. Johnson 2-9 0-2 5, Paulsen 3-7 2-4 8, Wiliams 1-10 1-2 4, Laudan 6-13 2-3 14, Moala 7-9 2-4 16, Boyer 0-1 1-3 1, Morgan 0-4 0-0 0, E. Johnson 1-2 0-0 2, Frederick 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-56 8-18 50.
Halftime — Andover Central 19, Paola 14. 3-point goals Andover Central 4-13 (Stamp 2-3, Pedersen 1-3, Kakoulias 0-1, Snodgrass 1-6), Paola 2-14 (L. Johnson 1-4, Morgan 0-2, Williams 1-7, E. Johnson 0-1). Fouled out — Laudan. Rebounds — Andover Central 33 (Kretchmar 11), Paola 46 (Moala 18, Laudan 10). Total fouls — Andover Central 15, Paola 13.