At one point, it looked like the third time would be the charm for Salina Central girls basketball. After falling to Andover Central twice in the regular season, the Mustangs were ready for the third showdown, controlling the first 20 minutes of play.
However, Andover Central’s determination for perfection was just too much.
The Jags dug out of a 17-point hole by scoring 28 points in the final eight minutes, securing their first state championship appearance since 2010 in the process as No. 1 Andover Central powered past No. 4 Salina Central, 65-56, Thursday afternoon from White Auditorium in Emporia. Andover Central improved to 24-0 while Salina Central’s campaign ended at 19-5, three defeats coming at the hands of Andover Central.
Salina Central was ready to serve revenge. The Mustangs broke open a 4-4 tie with an 8-0 spurt. Junior Hampton Williams made the lone three of the first half for Salina Central followed by an and-one bucket from junior Lici Samilton and a layup by sophomore Mykayla Cunningham. Andover Central tried to fight back, but made just 2 of its 14 field goal tries, trailing 15-9 after one.
Andover Central started the second with a 5-0 flurry, pulling within one. Salina Central kept Andover Central at bay by connecting on shots at the free throw line. The Mustangs made all five of their free throw attempts in the second while the Jags were 1-of-6. That allowed Salina Central to build a 28-19 advantage by halftime.
The Mustangs roared out of the break with an 8-0 spurt. Samilton made back-to-back shots, giving Salina Central a 36-19 cushion with 5:31 to play in the third. That’s when Andover Central flipped the script. Junior Brayden Wheatley jumpstarted the Jaguar attack with five straight points, including AC’s second triple of the day.
Andover Central turned to Brittany Harshaw and Baily Wilborn to finish the third. Harshaw made a trey and canned two free throws while Wilborn knocked down a pair of threes, trimming the deficit to 42-37 at the end of three.
The Jags then grabbed their first lead with 5 minutes to play off two free throws by Harshaw. After shooting 6-of-13 from free throw line in the first half, Andover Central was 16-of-20 in the final eight minutes. Meanwhile, Salina Central went ice cold. The Mustangs were just 17 percent from the field, 1-of-7 from beyond the arc.
Harshaw finished with 23 points for Andover Central. Wilborn added 15 points. Maddi Amekporfor had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Salina Central was paced by Aubrie Kierscht’s 21 points on 6-of-23 shooting. Cunningham finished with a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds. Samilton chipped in 13 points and 10 boards.