OKLAHOMA CITY – A fourth quarter rally by the Kansas Lady Comets was not quite enough as the Bethel Lady Wildcats made enough free throws to hold on to the lead and eventually win the school’s fourth state title in girls basketball with a 49-45 win over the defending state champions.
Trailing 34-24 at the end of the third quarter Kelsey Barnwell sparked Kansas with a pair of three and a layup off a Bethel turnover to cut the lead to 36-32 with seven minutes left.
But the Lady Wildcats, led by 5’11” junior post player Taylor Cooper, used their height and athleticism to keep the Lady Comets at bay. Cooper, who scored 18 points and pulled down 12 rebounds to lead Bethel, scored on a pair of turnaround jumpers in the paint to push the lead back to eight with 2:45 left. Kansas would foul repeatedly over the final two minutes in an attempt to get back into the game, but could get no closer than four.
The Lady Wildcats (26-2) went 22-of-31 from the free throw line for the game, keeping Kansas – especially guard Courtney Cowan – in foul trouble throughout the game.
“We couldn’t keep them off the free throw line,” Kansas head coach Steve Odle said afterward.
But Kansas (24-4), behind Barnwell and Cowan, refused to quit. After falling behind by as much as five early in the second period the Lady Comets would rally to tie the game when Cowan scored four straight late in the half. McKenzie Cooper would hit a three with seconds left to give Bethel a 21-18 halftime lead.
The Lady Comets then fell victim to one of the scoring droughts that have plagued them all season, going the first 4:30 of the third quarter without a point as Bethel surged to a 26-18 lead midway through the period.
“We had shots that had a chance, they just didn’t go in,” Odle said. “We were just tired, a little dead-legged.”
Kansas would trail by as much as 11 before Barnwell – who scored 10 of her 18 points in the fourth quarter while Cowan added five – got the Lady Comets back in the game.
“We started playing harder,” Odle said of his team’s fourth quarter comeback. “We had some shots go down and that helped.”
Cowan finished with 12 points despite picking up her third foul in the second quarter and her fourth foul with three minutes left in the third. Sophomore post player Heather Marshall scored nine points in just her third game back from a broken collarbone suffered in mid-season.
Kansas 60, Prague 52 (semifinals)
The Lady Comets used outside shooting to build a big lead, then used Barnwell and free throws to hold a second half charge by the third-ranked Prague Lady Red Devils and advance to the championship game with a 60-52 win.
Kansas hit five three-pointers in the first half, building a 17-8 after the first quarter. Cowan, Taylor Proctor and Haley Blackwood each hit from beyond the arc in the opening eight minutes.
Cowan would hit another three on a pass from Barnwell to open the Lady Comets’ largest lead of the first half at 20-10. But Prague would come back by dominating around the basket, getting four points each from Brooke Watkins, Alex Tilton and Danielle Morgan in the quarter.
The Lady Red Devils (26-2) would pull within four at 25-21 with 4:30 left in the first half. Barnwell, however, would keep Prague at bay with 11 second quarter points, including six straight to close out the half. Her pull-up jumper with seconds left appeared to give Kansas a 33-23 halftime lead. But Hillary Dixon’s heave from just inside the halfcourt line cut it to 33-26 at the break.
Kansas would open the second half with a 7-2 spurt, taking advantage of back-to-back Prague turnovers for layups, including a three-point play by Barnwell to make it 40-28 two minutes into the third quarter.
Prague would get back into the game by forcing turnovers on three straight Kansas possessions, getting back-to-back baskets from Watkins to make the score 45-39 at the end of the third.
Kansas would go nearly five minutes without scoring and a pair of Watkins free throws cut the Lady Comets’ lead to four with 6:30 left in the game.
But Cowan, who provided a steady 18 points on Friday, got a pair of free throws, followed by a pull-up jumper by Barnwell to push the lead back to eight.
Kansas would then go into a delay on offense, getting a late bucket from Blackwood and four straight free throws from Cowan in the final minute to put the game away.
Barnwell finished with 27 points, combining with Cowan for 45 of Kansas’s 60 points.
Watkins and Dixon finished with 12 points each for Prague, who fell in the semifinals for the second straight year. Tilton added 11.
Kansas 54, Northeast Academy of Oklahoma City 52 (quarterfinals)
Marshall’s power layup with 25 seconds left capped a fourth quarter comeback for the Lady Comets in a 54-52 win over Northeast Academy on Thursday at Midwest City High School.
In a back-and-forth contest that had nine lead changes, the sixth-ranked Lady Vikings pulled away for a 48-40 lead with six minutes to play.
The Lady Comets refused to quit, showing why they were the defending state champions. Cowan and Proctor hit back-to-back threes before four straight points from Barnwell capped the 10-0 run. Her turnaround jumper in the lane gave Kansas a 50-48 lead with 2:45 to play. Barnwell had 14 of her game-high 18 points in the second half, including 10 points in the third to keep Kansas afloat.
Northeast (20-6) fought back with baskets by Danielle Gaddis and Brianna Pendleton to retake the lead.
After the Lady Comets tied the game with 43 seconds left, a Northeast turnover gave Kansas the ball again. Cowan, who scored 17 points on the night, drove the lane and dished to Marshall, who went through two Lady Vikings to score.
Northeast had two shots to tie the game, but missed both.
“I told them we had to do something,” Odle said of his team’s fourth quarter predicament. “It was now or never, and they responded. Outside of winning the state championship, this was about as exciting as it gets.”