By KEVIN THOMPSON
LAKIN — It would be hard to argue a one-loss team being considered an underdog going up against an undefeated squad.
But it was how the Thomas More Prep-Marian girls had to feel Saturday going against Southwestern Heights in the 3A sub-state title game.
After all, the Mustangs were the defending state champions and on a mission to repeat. And TMP was missing its three-year starter — Kylee Hoffman, who tore her ACL. And they were playing younger and smaller than their counterparts.
But with determination, the Monarchs pulled off the upset, 51-47.
And for the first time in five sub-state championship tries under his helm, coach Alan Billinger's girls will be playing at state.
"Everything is just the opposite of what it was last year. We were the team undefeated and Southwestern Heights had one loss," Billinger said. "This year it was just reversed. This is two quality ball clubs that came to do business tonight."
TMP put up 55 shots (6-of-23 from beyond the arc) and hit 15. The Mustangs made 17-of-41, but were only 2-of-9 from 3-point range.
During one stretch in the final two quarters, TMP held Heights without a basket for nearly seven minutes.
A final difference was turnovers. Heights had 20 — 12 in the second half — while TMP had seven for the game.
For the second straight night, sophomore Rachel Jacobs took charge for the Monarchs. Saturday she had 18 points, following Friday's 24. More important, it was her free throws that stood out the most; she was 8-for-8 in the second half.
Heights had its biggest lead of the game just a minute into the second quarter, 16-11. Then Jacobs dropped two treys in less than a minute and gave the Monarchs their first lead at 17-16. Jenna Lang and Sophia Schippers both canned two more to end TMP's scoring for the half to go up by five.
Deni Jacobs' two baskets in the final minute brought the Mustangs to within 27-26 at intermission.
In the second half, Heights got its final lead of the game at 33-32 at the 4:41 mark of the third quarter. The Mustangs scored only one free throw after that until Jacobs' layup at the 6:10 mark in the final period. By then Schippers had nailed two more threes and her team was up 42-36.
Up 49-43 with 1:54 left, Kathy Eakes hit a short jumper to close the gap to four. With 57 seconds to go, Lindsay Garinger missed two free throws. With 31 seconds left, she stole the ball and drove the length of the floor for a layup and TMP was only up 49-47.
Then Jacobs, with 18 seconds left, calmly hit two more free throws for the Monarchs to seal the win, and the trip to state.
"When they got within two, I was really worried, especially when they put on the press," Billinger said. "We just didn't do a very good job of getting the ball in right away. But those free throws that Rachel hit were really big for us."
TMP now heads to Hutchinson as the top seed in the 3A tourney and will face Riley County (13-10) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
TMP-Marian 51, SW Heights 47
TMP-Marian (22-1) — S. Ruder 1 1-2 3, Jacobs 4 8-8 18, H. Ruder 2 0-0 4, Schippers 2 0-0 6, Lang 3 3-6 11, Stramel 3 3-3 9. Totals 15-55 15-19 51.
SW Heights (22-1) — Butler 1 0-2 2, Jacobs 6 1-4 13, Garinger 3 6-10 12, Brown 4 2-2 12, Eakes 3 2-2 8. Totals 17-41 11-20 47.
TMP-Marian 11 16 9 15 -- 51
SW Heights 13 13 8 13 -- 47
3-point goals — TMP 6-23 (Jacobs 2, Schippers 2, Lang 2); SWH 2-9 (Brown 2). Rebounds — TMP 30; SWH 40.