MANHATTAN — The areas where the Valley Heights girls excelled were enough to overcome those aspects of the game that were less than ideal for the Mustangs.
Valley Heights turned in a strong effort on the boards and limited Wabaunsee to 21 points through the first three quarters, then held off the Chargers' comeback attempt over the final period in a 51-45 victory Wednesday night in their Class 2A state tournament opener.
The Mustangs (22-2) advance to Friday's 6:30 p.m. semifinal at Bramlage Coliseum to face unbeaten and top-seeded Spearville (24-0). Wabaunsee ends its season at 20-4.
"We would like to have handled the pressure better and shoot free throws better, but we'll take it," Valley Heights coach Jordan Broxterman said. "Sometimes you have to win ugly."
Broxterman was referring to his team's 24 turnovers — 12 in each half — and 50% shooting as a team (18 of 36) from the free-throw line. But the Mustangs also finished with a 47-32 rebounding advantage and pulled down 18 offensive rebounds, many of those in the fourth quarter.
"Our defensive intensity was phenomenal and we dominated the boards," Broxterman said. "We knew that would be one of the keys to winning this game. We had too many turnovers and too many missed free throws, but with the rebounds we were able to limit their number of possessions."
"Those second- and third-chance opportunities were huge," Wabaunsee coach Trevor Keller said. "Give credit to them because they did a nice job defensively taking away what we wanted to do and rebounding the basketball."
A big part of the Mustangs’ effort on the boards came from Emma Yungeberg. The 5-foot-10 sophomore had 13 of her 20 rebounds in the second half. That total included eight offensive rebounds.
"We usually are able to get a lot of offensive and defensive rebounds," Yungeberg said. "Tonight we just pressured the ball and rebounded really well. We had to work through their pressure and not let it get to us."
The Mustangs used a 7-0 run to start the second half to go up 30-15, and still led by that margin early in the fourth quarter after a Yungeberg basket made it 36-21.
Wabaunsee's Madelyn Hutley had a pair of 3-pointers to start the rally. The Chargers were trying to set up another Hutley 3-point attempt midway through the fourth that could have cut the lead to four, but were called for an illegal screen on the play.
Yungeberg scored inside on the next possession, was fouled and made the free throw for a 44-34 Heights lead with 3:37 to play.
Wabaunsee got as close as five points (47-42) after a Alexis Hafenstine 3-pointer with 52 seconds remaining. Valley Heights made 4 of 6 free throws in the final 46 seconds, including two from Madison Vermetten to put her team up eight with 20 seconds remaining.
"We knew Wabaunsee was going to make a run," Broxterman said. "As good as they are, we knew it would be close at the end.
"That's a phenomenal team and we knew it would be a task, but our girls embody and embrace those challenges. Hopefully it will carry over into Friday's game."
Yungeberg also had 17 points to lead the Mustangs in scoring, with Emelia Toerber adding 12 points and eight rebounds. Hafenstine had 13 points and Hutley 12 for Wabaunsee.
"We had five seniors and all of them are going on to play at the next level," Keller said. "They were tremendous athletes and even better people. As a first-year coach, I couldn't have asked for a better group."