By ALAN HOSKINS
KANSAS CITY, KAN. ----- The winningest season in the last 17 years of Kansas City Kansas Community College women’s basketball came to an end Tuesday night but not without one heck of a fight.
Playing on the home court of the No. 4 ranked Division II team in the nation and down 16 points with six minutes to go, the Lady Blue Devils stormed back only to have time run out in a 62-58 loss at Highland.
“We fought hard, harder than any game all season and I’m really proud of that,” said KCKCC head coach Valerie Stambersky. “Under the circumstances of being on their court and being down they just continued to fight and never gave up.”
“I’ve never been prouder of this team,” added assistant coach Shaun Burki. “Another minute and I think we might have got it into overtime.”
The big effort even carried over to the opposition.
“I just wanted to let you know how impressed my wife and I were by the resiliency, determination and fight your players showed,” e-mailed Doc Arnett, Highland’s Director of Institutional Research and former girls high school basketball coach. “I know such comments do nothing to lessen the sting and disappointment of a playoff loss after working so hard all season long but I hope that you might pass along to the team that their great spirit and teamwork showed through.”
Turnovers, 18 in the first half, ultimately dug the Blue Devils a 39-25 halftime hole from which they never could escape but it was the KCKCC defense that turned up the heat in outscoring the Scotties 33-23 in the second half. Trailing 59-43 with 5.59 remaining, the Blue Devils gave up only three free throws the rest of the way in a 15-3 finish before time ran out.
“Defensively, we did what we had to do, forcing turnovers and rebounding the ball,” said Stambersky. “They only had 11 offensive rebounds which is about half of what they had in the other games.”
Actually, the Blue Devils dominated the rebounding 49-36 including 15 off the offensive boards. Iland Shurn led the way with a game high 15 while Imani White added eight, Janai Mitchell seven and Julia Garrard six.
Missed free throws short-circuited the Blue Devils’ comeback, just 13 of 22 the second half and 22 of 38 for the game although Highland was much worse, just 14 of 35. The Blue Devils were also without a 3-point goal in 13 attempts but limited Highland to 4-of-30 and just 8-of-32 second half shots.
Rashaun Casey led the KCKCC scoring with 21 points including 9 of 12 free throws while Janai Mitchell paced the second half comeback with 13 of her 14 points.
”Janai also helped a lot in breaking the press,” said Stambersky. Imani White added eight points but Cassidy Harbert fighting the effects of a severe flu virus was limited to five points and five rebounds before fouling out.
The loss ended the KCKCC season at 24-8 with six of the eight losses to teams ranked in the top five nationally. The win advances Highland (29-2) into the Region VI championship game against No. 2 Johnson County (30-1) at Wichita Saturday. The two teams split during the season, both winning on the road.