Harshaw leads Jags into 5A title game

Andover Central makes first title game appearance since 2010.

Charles Chaney
Butler County Times Gazette
Brittany Harshaw (22) dribbles through a host of Salina Central defenders on Thursday, March 11 at W.L. White Auditorium in Emporia, Kansas. The Junior finished with 23 points in the 65-56 win over Salina Central.

EMPORIA, Kansas—You would think after 44 consecutive wins you wouldn't count out the Andover Central girls in any game. Even if they found themselves down 17 points in the second half.

The Jaguars didn't count themselves out and it paid off. 

Andover Central outscored Salina Central 41-17 over the game's final 10 minutes to push themselves into their first state championship game since 2010 with the 65-56 win on Thursday afternoon.

"When my girls play loose, it's tough to keep up with them," Andover Central Head Coach Stana Jefferson said. 

The Jaguars looked like the team that had been dominant all season over the game's final frame as they forced turnovers and defended as if it was their first and only game of the season.

"We have an end goal to finish," senior Brayden Wheatley said. "We got to finish what we started last year when it was taken away from us."

Last year, the Jaguars ran up a 22-1 record, including their final 21 games as they beat De Soto in the 5A quarterfinals. Later that evening, KSHSAA had decided to cancel the remaining rounds of the state tournaments due to COVID-19. 365 days later, the Jaguars found themselves continuing what they started last season.

"Last year was obviously tough for us," junior Brittany Harshaw said. "We worked hard all year for this and we have to come out and play hard in our last game."

Harshaw scored 19 points in the second half to help Andover Central make a wild comeback in the game's final 12 minutes. 

"We changed Brittany [Harshaw] over on No. 24 [MyKayla Cunningham]," Jefferson said. "I told her she's 6-1 and as fast as anyone on the floor."

It helped as Cunningham went 0 of 6 for 2 points in the second half and eventually fouled out with 2:03 remaining.

For Harshaw it was the flip of the switch she needed after being in foul trouble against Maize and struggling in the first half. She turned it to a gear not many at the high school level have and led Andover Central to a step from the promise land.

Salina Central (19-5) led 28-19 at the break and came out to score the first six points of the second half when Caliscia found an offensive rebound for the easy put back forcing a timeout by the Jags. 

"I had to call a timeout," Jefferson said. "I thought we had this settled at halftime. They came out and played much better than we did."

Salina Central jumped out to the 17-point lead, their largest of the game and with Bailey Wilborn picking up her third foul, it was Brayden Wheatley coming up clutch. She had a layup and a three, both assisted by Jadewn Newfarmer to keep with Jaguars within striking distance.

It wouldn't be until the 2:22 mark the Jaguars would finally find something that worked. Newfarmer scored and then Bailey Wilborn hit a three to bring it within 10 point.

By the end of the third, Andover Central had closed the gap to only five points. 

Andover Central took the lead for good when Ellie Stearns hit the second of two free throws with 5:00 remaining. 

The Jaguar run reached 23-5 run that spanned almost 6½ minutes. During the run, Andover Central's defense forced five turnovers and held Salina Central 2 of 15 over the run, including 1 of 6 from beyond the arc. The Jaguars ended the game shooting The Jaguars were 10 of 15.

"We didn't rebound well or shoot the free throws well in the first half," Jefferson said. "Down the line things came together and the girls finally relaxed."

With everyone seemingly in foul trouble, Harshaw accounted for 19 points in the second half, going 6 of 6 at the free throw line when the Jaguars struggled all game long. They were 24 of 37 at the line after starting 6 of 15. As a team, they were 16 of 19 in the fourth quarter from the line.

Wilborn finished with 15 points, 12 in the second half. Sophomore Maddi Amekporfor had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Jags.

Now, the Jaguars will get a shot at the state championship at 2 p.m. inside L.W. White Auditorium in Emporia. 

"It's really cool to be back here," Harshaw said. "We want to go out and win for our seniors since they're such great leaders."

Class 5A State semifinals

Andover Central 65, Salina Central 56

Salina Central;15;13;14;14;—;56

Andover Central;9;10;18;28;—;65

SALINA CENTRAL (19-5)

Stewart 0-6 0-0 0, Cunningham 5-13 6-7 16, Williams 1-6 3-4 6, Kierscht 6-23 6-6 21, Samilton 5-10 3-3 13, Hall 0-0 0-0 0, Vidricksen 0-2 0-0 0, Peckham 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-60 18-20 56. 

ANDOVER CENTRAL (24-0)

Wilborn 3-12 6-10 15, Stearns 2-9 4-6 8, Newfarmer 1-4 0-0 2, Harshaw 6-16 10-12 23, Amekporfor 4-12 4-10 12, Wheatley 2-4 0-0 5. Totals 18-58 24-37 65.

3-point goals—SC 4-26 (Stewart 0-5, Williams 1-4, Kierscht 3-17), AC 5-29 (Wilborn 3-11, Stearns 0-6, Newfarmer 0-2, Harshaw 1-6, Amekporfor 0-1, Wheatley 1-3). Fouled out—SC: Cunningham, Williams, Stewart. AC: Newfarmer. Rebounds—SC 45 (Cunningham, Williams 11 each), AC 43 (Amekporfor 11). Turnovers—SC 18, AC 9. Total fouls—SC 23, AC 17.

Charles Chaney has been the Sports Editor for the Butler County Times-Gazette since Aug. 2019. You can reach him at cchaney@butlercountytimesgazette.com or on Twitter at @ChuckChaneyBCTG.