HUTCHINSON — Neither team really shot the ball all that well, especially early.
But for the second straight day in the Class 3A state tournament, the Royal Valley girls found the bucket when it mattered.
And for the second straight game, it meant a victory for the Panthers. Tamo Thomas buried a 3 near the end of regulation to tie things up, propelling her club to a 54-52 overtime victory against third-seeded TMP-Marian. The win pushed Royal Valley into the first title game in school history — the previous three trips to state resulted in first round losses in 1976, '86 and 2005.
“We’re a team that continues to fight and keeps fighting regardless of the time or the score,” first-year Panther head coach Kyle Porter said. “We hit some big shots tonight.”
The loss by TMP was the third straight year the Monarchs suffered a setback in the semifinals.
“They did hit some big shots,” TMP-Marian coach Rose McFarland said. “We were defending them pretty well, but they stepped up, hit some shots.”
Perhaps none was bigger than Thomas’ with 12 seconds left in regulation. TMP had a 41-36 lead with 50 seconds left, but after Royal Valley’s Klikto Thomas hit a layup with 39 seconds left, it was just a three-point game.
Royal Valley got one more shot and Tamo Thomas made it happen. She calmly faked a drive and stepped back on the right wing to bury her third triple of the night.
“She is a mindful player,” Porter said of Thomas, who also hit a go-ahead 3-pointer the night before in an upset of Nemaha Central. “She’s in the zone, she’s locked in, playing one possession at a time.”
Turnovers didn’t help TMP’s cause, though. With the three-point lead, the Monarchs fell victim to the pressure and turned it over with 32 seconds left in regulation to give Royal Valley another shot.
Then the Monarchs had two in overtime that helped the Panthers pull away.
“We had some turnovers and gave them an opportunity, and they took advantage of it,” McFarland said.
Still, TMP managed an early overtime lead. Senior Kayla Vitztum, who had a rough night at the free-throw line early, buried two at the stripe to start OT, but then had a turnover a minute later with the game tied.
Tamo Thomas made the Monarchs pay again, banking in a trey to give Royal Valley the lead for good. She finished with a game-high 20 points.
“I’ve seen it watching them play,” McFarland said of Thomas’ 3-point shooting (4 of 8). “She stepped up, played really well tonight.”
The cushion helped Royal Valley eventually cause two more turnovers and take a seven-point lead before TMP attempted a late comeback in the extra session. The key for the Panthers, though, was not letting Vitztum go off.
The senior Newman volleyball signee had 17 points and 12 rebounds, but scored most of her points off the dribble and was 6 of 10 from the free-throw line. She also fouled out in overtime.
“We wanted to try and limit her touches,” Porter said of Vitztum. “I guess we did alright on her, because you can’t just sag on her, because they have a number of shooters that can light it up at any time.”
Early on, that wasn’t the case for either team, with neither shooting better than 30 percent from the field in the first half. The teams combined for just 28 points.
“Just had to keep battling, then at the end they just kind of pulled away,” McFarland said. “We came out and played as tough as we could. Just couldn’t get it done.”