By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
The Kansas Class 4A girls sub-state tournament at Fort Scott may be the most competitive in the state.
Consider that four of the eight teams are league champions and that the field boasts a 104-53 combined record for a 66.2 winning percentage. To put it into perspective, the tournament field for the nearby 4A girls sub-state at Independence has a combined record of 62-93.
“I expect every game to be tough,” Baxter Springs coach Kris Crotts said. “Every game is going to be hard fought.”
The Lions themselves are a good illustration of the parity in the tournament. Baxter Springs (13-6), which was CNC League co-champions with the Frontenac Raiders, enters the sub-state as the No. 5 seed and will travel to Girard to face the fourth-seeded Trojans (14-6) at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Two of Baxter’s losses were to top-seeded Frontenac by a total of three points.
The sub-state’s other three first-round games on Tuesday include No. 8 Anderson County (7-13) at Frontenac (16-4), No. 7 Columbus (12-8) at Frontier League champion and second-seeded Prairie View (15-5) and No. 6 Pittsburg (13-6) at SEK League champion and third-seeded Fort Scott (14-5). The semifinals and championship game will be played at Fort Scott.
Getting to Fort Scott won’t be easy for any of the eight teams. Only four wins separate the No. 1 and No. 7 seeds.
Luckily for Baxter Springs, it has been playing its best basketball as of late. The Lions opened the season with a 7-5 record before going 6-1 during league competition.
“I think it came down to that we played a lot of close games early,” Crotts said. “As the season went on, we learned from those games. We grew mentally and learned how to finish games.”
Coincidentally, Crotts said the turning point came during a 47-45 win over Girard on Feb. 5. Baxter Springs junior Caitlin Roberts hit the game-winner at the buzzer. The Lions haven’t lost since and enter tournament on a six-game winning streak.
Senior guard Nina Spence leads the Lions with 17.2 points per game. But it’s her ability to get her teammates involved that may have helped get Baxter over the hump.
“The whole team has improved since conference play started,” Crott said. “Nina learned when to take over a game and when to be more passive. She’s got smarter and better just like everyone else on the team as the season has gone on.”
Junior Aleigh Grimes averages 11.1 points and 6.2 rebounds. Senior Ashleigh Grimes, who averaged 10.3 points through seven games, is trying to return from a fractured fibula.
Girard is led by all-state guard Hadyn Herlocker, who signed with Pittsburg State. Herlocker scored 22 points during the Trojans’ 45-44 win over Baxter on Dec. 7 and 28 during the loss.
“She’s a great scorer, but I think her best attribute is how well she sees the floor,” Crotts said. “She handles double teams well and finds the open man. That’s what makes her so tough.”
The sub-state champion will advance to the 4A state tournament next week in Salina.
Games on the boys’ side of the Fort Scott 4A sub-state tip off tonight.