Just 14 days ago, the Thomas More Prep-Marian girls’ basketball team got off to a rocky start against Norton, the eventual champ in the Mid-Continent League Tournament.
The way things started Friday night, it was looking all-too-similar for the Monarchs against the No. 4 ranked team in Class 3A.
The Monarchs, though, showed they’ve grown a bit since, erasing an 8-2 early deficit and knocking out Norton 37-34 at Al Billinger Fieldhouse.
It was Norton’s second loss this season, and the first against an opponent from Kansas.
The Bluejays dropped to 13-2, while the Monarchs moved to 11-4, nabbing another win against a top tier team in the MCL.
“That was a tough loss at WaKeeney (MCL semis),” Monarch coach Rose McFarland said of the 59-29 beating her team took on Jan. 17. “We looked at it as how can we improve? We knew we could play with them and the girls showed up tonight.”
Not right away, though.
Norton grabbed a big lead early with 6-foot-2 senior Hadley Hauser notching six first-quarter points and Norton grabbing a 12-6 lead, despite a big early 3-pointer from Monarch senior Jillian Lowe.
Then the Monarchs stepped it up a notch.
“Even the first time we played them, we were ahead 17-0, I wasn’t feeling comfortable about it,” Norton head coach George Rossi said. “You could kind of tell we weren’t going to hit some shots we normally make.”
The Bluejay coach added the win in the MCL semis was an exceptional game. His club came back to Earth a bit in Billinger Fieldhouse.
“It was going to be a lot closer,” he said. “It’s always hard to try and come down here and get a win.”
The second quarter proved that. In a defensive struggle, Norton scored just two points, a layup from senior Taryn Kuhn, while TMP put up six to make it a 14-12 Norton advantage at the break.
“We handled their press this time,” McFarland said. “Last time, they just killed us on the press.”
Staying close was just what TMP needed. Emily Schippers did the rest of the Monarchs. The senior took over the game offensively for TMP in the second half. Freshman Emilee Lane tied the game at 14, then Schippers gave TMP its first lead at 18-17 on a pair of free throws, only to see Norton tie things back up at 20 by the end of the third quarter.
Schippers didn’t take her foot off the pedal. The senior had all of her team-high 13 points in the second half, was 4-for-4 from the free throw line and hit a 3.
“She can hit the 3, she can drive,” Rossi said. “You can’t relax on her. She hurt us bad.”
Meanwhile, Kuhn and Hauser, who averaged 16 and 10 points, respectively, managed to nearly meet their combined average. Kuhn had just four points at half and ended with 14 with many coming late after Norton fell down by seven.
“(Jillian Lowe) did a good job of not letting (Kuhn) penetrate,” McFarland said. “I don’t think she got things going until that last quarter.”
Kuhn had seven points in the final quarter, three coming late when Norton made a rally attempt, collecting two straight steals to make it a 35-34 TMP advantage with 40 seconds left.
The Monarchs ran out a big chunk of clock, though, and junior Adell Riedel was fouled with 6 seconds remaining. The Bluejays got the setup they wanted. Riedel made both free throws and Norton had a chance to get a shot off. Hauser never got a decent look at the bucket though.
“We didn’t necessarily want (that), but it happened,” Rossi said. “They played good defense in the last few seconds to take the play away from us.”
The matchup was the second of three potential meetings this season. The two are in the same sub-state when postseason play begins in March in Hoisington.
While the chances are high that will happen, McFarland wasn’t quite looking that far ahead. Her team still has a daunting task ahead as it hopes for another MCL crown. TMP is at home to face Phillipsburg on Friday.
“Lot of games left,” McFarland said. “The league is so much more balanced this year. You have to show up every game.”
TMP boys 55, Norton 42
The Monarch boys got hot from 3 early, then stayed hot enough late to fend off any kind of rally in Friday night’s game at Al Billinger Fieldhouse.
Sophomore Lucas Lang and senior Ryan Karlin combined for five first-quarter 3s as the Monarchs jumped out to a 20-13 lead and never really looked back.
The Monarchs ended the night with seven 3s and put three players in double digits, and once they opened up a double-digit lead by halftime, Norton never really threatened. Karlin led all scorers with 14 points, opening the third quarter the same way he did the game — from the 3-point line.
TMP led by as much as 15 points in the second half, with Norton only making it a single-digit game briefly in the fourth quarter.
Monarch sophomore Jackson Schulte made 4 of 4 free throws in the final frame to finish with 11 points. Lang finished with 13. Norton’s Carter Jones, who made three from long range, scored a team-high 13. The Bluejays fell to 7-9, while TMP moved to 9-7 with Phillipsburg (13-2 and ranked No. 5 in 3A) visiting Friday.