Wellington found themselves on the wrong side of a familiar situation, a double-digit lead and the clock ticking away, with the opposing team playing keep-away with the ball. The Lady-Crusaders experienced their first loss of the year against Paola in the 4A Div. I semi-final game in Salina on March 11.
It was clear Paola wanted to come out with a fast tempo on Friday. They quickly hit a three and a long-range two to take an early lead on WHS. The Lady-Panthers were hitting their shots and Wellington was not in spite of some good looks. Three three-pointers were hit in succession at one point, two for PHS bookended a three from Lauryn Snipes. She and Grace Mitchell scored the only points for WHS in the first, as the team in red was down 19-9 after one.
In the second Wellington continued to have trouble keeping pace. Paola went on a 10-0 run before Wellington was able to climb back out of the hole a little. Snipes connected on a lay-up followed by an Avery Rusk lay-up on the next possession. Snipes also hit a three, which would put a stop to that 10-0 Paola run. She lead Wellington with 10 points at half, followed closely by Mitchell with 9. Paoloa scored 17 to WHS' 16 in the second; after two PHS lead 36-25.
In the third Wellington came out and went to work. Head Coach, Eric Adams urged his team to attack the ball on defense, WHS was able to force a couple of early turnovers, and grab some rebounds- two elements that were absent in the first half. Mitchell scored seven quick points, and Rusk added a layup as well. Paola was facing a different team in the third quarter. Snipes put in a couple of buckets to get WHS within five late. Taylor Zimmerman hit a two footer to cut the lead you three with about a minute to go. After some Paola free-throws, Snipes drove the length of the court and put in a buzzer-beating lay-up. It was 47-45 Paola headed into the fourth. Mitchell tied the game at 47 moments into the final quarter. Wellington's crowed erupted!
The momentum soon shifted, and Paola got back to a six point lead and was able to keep it in that area for a good portion of the quarter. With about four and a half to go, five Wellington players had three fouls. Then the unthinkable happened. On back-to-back possessions, Mitchell picked up her fourth foul on defense then her fifth on offense. The ref called her for pushing off going towards the basket on the baseline. Her day was over with 18 points. Paola was back up by 10 with 3:20 to go. The Lady-Crusaders gave it all they had the rest of the way, but they were at the mercy of Paola who had none to give. Final score 64-51.
The season isn't over for WHS. They will play for third place on March 12 at noon against either Bishop-Miage or Labette County.
Wellington never held the lead in Friday's contest. Paola had three players in double digits, two players had 19 ponts.
Coach Adams said he thought they had Paola on the ropes after the third quarter when Wellington outscored PHS 20-11, and then tying the game early in the fourth. Adams then said that run took a lot out of his team.
After the loss, Adams said that he knows the resilience of his team and that they will be ready to play on Saturday after the Friday heartbreaker. He also expressed just how proud he is of the team and their season.
S. French 6
T. French 3
Pictured: Avery Rusk drives towards the basket on the semi-finals on Friday.