Make your free throws, kids.
The Centre girls did exactly that, nailing 27 of 33 attempts, and walked away from the Class 1A-Div. I state tournament with the third-place trophy Saturday by defeating St Paul, 48-44, at White Auditorium in Emporia.
It was the first state hardware awarded to a Centre girls? team since 1973, when the Cougars finished as runners-up in the very first tournament for girls.
On a day when the Cou?gars shot a tepid 33 percent from the floor?including 1-for-7 from behind the arc? they were white-hot from the free-throw line with six players contributing. The sharpest shooter of all was senior standout Shelby Makovec, who was a perfect 14-for-14.
It was clear from the start that these two teams were evenly matched. Centre fell behind 5-1, but when Brenna Shields made one of two free throws at the 4:02 mark, the Cougars began a 7-2 surge that put them on top after one quarter, 8-7, when St. Paul scored in the final second.
The free-throw frenzy began in earnest in the second quarter. Centre out?scored the Indians, 13-8, thanks in large part to eight points at the line from Makovec. Shields and Callie Riffel each contributed a field goal to the Cougars? 21-15 halftime advantage.
St. Paul outscored Centre 12-9 in the third quarter to tighten the margin to 30-27 heading into the final quarter.
It proved to be dramatic. The Indians? momentum continued at the start when they scored two more basket and took a 31-30 lead.
Makovec hit a three-pointer at 4:40 to put Centre back on top, but a pair of free throws by St. Paul?s Holly Hutcher?son tied the game at 33 with 4:01 to play.
After Shelby Pankratz responded with two free throws and Makovec scored on a drive in the lane, Centre led, 38-34, despite missing two out of three free throws during that stretch.
A basket by Raquel Rice drew St. Paul to within a basket with 2:04 left, but Mako?vec made two more charities after she was fouled on the inbounds pass that followed Rice?s basket.
After Keyahanah Burk hit a three with 1:40 left, Makovec countered with two free throws at 1:16 for a 44-39 Centre lead. But Kaetlin O?Brien got St. Paul fans roaring when she nailed a three with 1:04 left to pull her team to within 44-42.
The game then took a dire turn when Makovec was called for traveling with 52.6 seconds left. Moments later, O?Brien launched another three-point shot. This one missed the mark, but she followed the shot and was fouled.
Facing a one-and-one at the line with a chance to tie the game, O?Brien?s first free throw rimmed out?but St. Paul maintained possession when the ball went out of bounds off Centre?s Elisa Benning during the battle for the rebound.
Hutcherson made the most of the moment, hitting a 15-footer along the baseline with 31 seconds left that pulled the Indians into a 44-44 tie.
At the other end, Benning provided a huge bucket on a putback with 16 seconds left to give Centre the lead for good.
When St. Paul missed a tying shot, Centre rebounded and Makovec was fouled with 4.3 seconds left. Fittingly, the senior secured the victory — and ended her high school career on its highest note — by hitting her 13th and 14th consecutive free throws.
Almost lost in her performance from the free-throw line were the 11 points Makovec added from the field, giving her a game-high 25. Nellie Kassebaum and Shields were next in line with five points each.
Josie Albertini led St. Paul with 13 and Hutcherson added 10. As a team, the Indians shot only 15 free throws during the game and made 10.
Both teams finished the season with 22-4 records, including a bye win in sub-state play.