Depending on who you believe, both Crane and Kickapoo were underdogs when they played for a girls basketball tournament title.
Crane (7-0) played its signature hard-nosed defense to win first place in the fifth annual Stephanie Phillips Classic at Kickapoo High School. The Pirates beat the host squad 51-30 in the championship final Saturday night.
Crane threw a three-quarter press defense at Kickapoo (4-2) for much of the night, but Chiefs coach Jim Pendergrass says it was the Pirates’ mixture of zone and man-to-man on the defensive third the kept Kickapoo from scoring much.
“We struggled handling it in the halfcourt. (Crane) did a superb job of halfcourt defense and it all started with Lexie Vaught on their team. She dictated the play of the whole game,” Pendergrass said.
Vaught, a junior guard, led the No. 1-ranked Class 2 girls team with 17 points.
“It’s always fun to think they are big, and their school is the size of our town, but it’s really good to be the smaller school, the underdog,” Vaught said.
Kickapoo High boasts an enrollment of approximately 2,100 students, while according to U.S. Census data, the estimated population of Crane is 1,421. But can a No. 1 Class 2 team coming off two consecutive state championships qualify for underdog status?
Perhaps, considering Kickapoo’s No. 2 ranking in the Class 5 coaches’ poll, but Pendergrass heaped praise on coach Jeremy Mullins’ Pirates.
“To be able to play a program like Crane and a two-time defending state champion, for us — our team is going to get better for it,” Pendergrass said. “To hold them down to 50 is a pretty good accomplishment. I mean, they are a great offensive team and they’re very explosive.”
Kickapoo trotted out for its fifth game in eight days to try to win a tournament named for its late hall-of-fame coach. The Chiefs wore special pink uniforms reserved strictly for the Stephanie Phillips Classic every year. The pink uniforms honor Phillips, who guided the Lady Chiefs to a 214-38 record, two state championships (2003 and 2005) and one third-place finish (2010) during her time at the helm.
Phillips died of cancer in 2010, and the pink uniforms are a reminder that Phillips always wanted to coach a team in pink.
“They’d like to wear those pink uniforms every game,” Pendergrass said of the Kickapoo players.
Crane took the court with zero fear, playing aggressive defense and capitalizing on Kickapoo’s 13 turnovers in the first half.
“Defense is definitely our strongest point and we were wanting to get the ball every chance we had,” Vaught said. “We wanted to be as scrappy as we possibly could.”
Crane held Kickapoo without a field goal for the final six minutes of the first half. The Pirates went on an 11-1 scoring run to take a 14-point lead into halftime. Kickapoo managed just 10 first half points.
Crane scored 26 of its 51 points from the paint. Junior forward Emma Lander scored 14 points. Sophomore Jordan Sanders led Kickapoo with 11 points.