By KEVIN THOMPSON
SATANTA — At the Class 1A-Div. I finals on Saturday night, the two teams on paper that were supposed to meet in the finals did. Spearville turned in the better performance, ending Deerfield's season and earning a berth in the state tournament in Emporia with a 54-45 victory. It wasn't through lack of effort on Deerfield's part. Rather, a more aggressive, better-shooting Lady Lancers squad that won the day. With a core of varsity-experienced seniors and a 19-3 record, the Spartans were a game away from making their first state appearance since 2006.
But they ran into an equally determined Spearville team that shot better, turned the ball over less, and was physically bigger inside. Even with what looked like most of the city of Deerfield cheering in the stands, the Spartans couldn't find its "A game" in the loss. Down 7-0 early, Deerfield cut the lead to two, the closest it would get all game. The Spartans consistently fought back from deficits and closed scoring gaps, only to have the Lancers take off on scoring runs. Deerfield fell behind 12-7 and 27-18 after the first two quarters and was down 41-25 in the fourth. The Spartans cut the lead to 10 with a 7-1 run at the 5-minute mark with a Mariah Smith layup, a Crystal Mata two and Bridget Crandall's second 3-pointer of the game. After Spearville countered with its own 7-2 run to pull ahead by 14, the same trio combined for another run of 7-1 to close to within nine, but with only 1:31 to play, it was too little, too late. "Our game plan was to play aggressive, hard defense," Spearville coach Lorie Stein said. "We knew it was going to be tough. They're a very good team with a tough inside-outside threat, very similar to us. We had to think of what would a team have to do to stop us, and that was our mentality tonight." Crandall, who, along with Smith, finished with 12 points to lead the Spartans, said the Spartans were uncharacteristically nervous. "We didn't shoot the ball nearly as well as we usually do (13-of-47) and we turned the ball over a bunch (17 times)," she said. "They played really good defense, but a lot of it was just nerves. We haven't really been in this position before." Despite the deficits, she added, Deerfield never quit. "This team just finds ways to come back and play hard the whole game," she said.
Coach Doug Crandall agreed that there was no quit to his squad, but Spearville's outside shooting with Sarae Kistler was expected (she hit a trio of 3's and finished with 16 points), but Katherine Rabe's four field goals in the second quarter was not. Smith scored just one point in the first half, but her defense against Elle Stein was critical to holding Spearville in check, coach Crandall said. Both posts scored 11 in the second half, but Stein's three blocks made the Spartans more cautious about driving. "We tried penetrating, but they did a good job of swatting them away," coach Crandall said. "I told them to take it to her and they did, but give Stein credit." Spearville will do well at state, he added, but he is convinced that two of the top teams had just played. The Spartans finish the season at 19-4.