By NICK McQUEEN
Special to The Telegram
HAYS — Nothing like waiting 29 years for a bit of redemption.
Better late than never.
The Ingalls High School girls' basketball team is headed to the state championship game in Class 1A Division II by virtue of a 53-42 win over Wilson in Friday afternoon's semifinal game at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
It's the first trip to a title game in school history, and it came against a school that knocked off Ingalls in the 1984 semifinals. Prior to making the last three state appearances, Ingalls had not qualified since 1984, it's only state appearance before the current run.
"It's exciting," Ingalls head coach Roger Thurlow said. "Third straight year, and the first time we're going to play for a championship.
"It's been a lot of fun," he added. "These girls are fired up. They came out with a lot of energy, played their hearts out and beat a very good Wilson team."
Bulldog freshman Kaisha Batman scored a game-high 22 points by driving against Wilson most of the night, and Ingalls never trailed after taking a 6-2 lead in the first quarter.
Plus, the Bulldogs held arguably one of the best players in the state in Dragon senior Karlie Steinle to 11 points, less than half of her season average.
"(Defense) has been the calling card for the last three years," Thurlow said. "We get after it with our defense. We don't always shoot that great. We miss a lot of shots we should make sometimes, but defense keeps us in every game."
The trap worked well in the first quarter as Ingalls mounted an 11-6 lead, but Wilson (21-3) started to figure things out in the second, putting together a 7-4 run to tie the game at 17. Ingalls led 21-19 at halftime.
"That's very common with good teams," Thurlow said. "It takes them about a quarter to adjust to our trap, and when they do, they come back and make a run.
"I just told them 'It's going to come down to whoever is tougher,'" the coach added.
Batman made several drives into the lane to score six in the first half, then kept the pressure on in the third quarter.
Wilson coach Rod Seehafer said a big focus of his defense was to keep the ball out of the hands of Ingalls' 5-foot-11 junior forward, Rebecca Wyatt. For the most part, the Dragons did, containing Wyatt to 10 points, but Wyatt also grabbed 10 rebounds for the double-double. Ingalls outrebounded the Dragons, 33-29.
"We had to keep it out of her hands and slow her down a little bit," Seehafer said. "We had a good game plan, we just didn't execute it very well. We just played the whole night a step behind. I know we can play better, but this time of the year, you have to pick it up every game."
Wilson was coming off a hard-fought 53-47 win Wednesday in the first round against Baileyville-B&B. Ingalls, for the second straight year, drew a sub.-500 team in the first round, and used its starters sparingly in the second half of a 54-27 rout of LeRoy-Southern Coffey County.
"(Ingalls is) a good team, and we were tired," Seehafer said. "We looked tired. We just didn't get with it and didn't attack them until late."
Ingalls (25-0) started the second half on an 8-1 run, and eventually led by double digits by the midway point of the third quarter. Batman, who hit 6 of 10 from the field and 9 of 11 at the free throw line for the game, scored eight points in the third quarter, including a 3-pointer with 14 seconds left to give Ingalls a 14-point advantage.
"They spread their zone out, and you have to attack their pressure or they're going to beat you," Thurlow said. "We were able to do that in the third quarter."
Steinle finished the game with 11 points after averaging nearly 24 per game all season. Thurlow compared Steinle to Morgan Hood, Bucklin's standout the Bulldogs faced three times.
"That gave us some good practice," Thurlow said. "All we tried to do was know where she was at every single second on the floor. If she was going to beat us, she was going to have to work to do it."
Wilson started attacking Ingalls' pressure in the fourth quarter, but never pulled closer than 11 points, and the Bulldogs were able to hit free throws down the stretch to extend the lead. Batman was 4 for 4 in the final minute.
Wilson takes on Rexford-Golden Plains in Saturday's noon third-place game, while Ingalls will take on second-seeded Norwich (24-1). Norwich beat Golden Plains 32-29 in Friday's other semifinal.
Ingalls fell in the semifinals last season to eventual runner-up Hutchinson-Central Christian, before placing third.
"We came as close as we possibly could last year. We had Central Christian on the ropes several times," Thurlow said. "They knew if you don't play four quarters, you could be a great team all year, and they can take you. We just play one game at a time.
"This is a statement win, that this team is as good as anybody."
Ingalls 53, Wilson 42
Karlie Steinle 3-9 3-5 11, Antjeli Pfannenstiel 7-14 2-2 16, S. Steinike 3-11 3-4 9, T. Steinike 1-5 0-2 3, Roberson 1-5 0-0 2, Davis 0-2 0-0 0, Ptacek 0-1 1-1 1. Totals — 15-47 9-14 42.
Kaisha Batman 6-10 9-11 22, Rebecca Wyatt 5-10 0-1 10, Estrada 1-7 2-5 4, Whipple 1-5 3-5 5, Galaviz 3-5 3-4 9, Beach 1-3 1-2 3. Totals — 17-40 18-28 53.
Wilson 10 9 5 18 — 42
Ingalls 13 8 18 14 — 53
3-point goals — Wilson 3-6 (Steinle 2-4, T. Steinike 1-2); Ingalls 1-8 (Estrada 0-3, Batman 1-3, Wyatt 0-1, Beach 0-1). Total fouls — Wilson 19, Ingalls 16. Fouled out — Roberson, Wilson.
Rebounds - Wilson 29 (Pfannenstiel 10); Ingalls 33 (Wyatt 10). Turnovers — Wilson 23, Ingalls 18.