By CONOR NICHOLL for Sports in Kansas
On Dec. 21, Pittsburg girls’ basketball made the half-hour road trip to Webb City, Mo. WC had defeated the Purple Dragons by 34 last winter. This time, the Cardinals were up by 12 with six minutes left in the third quarter.
However, Pittsburg scored 13 straight points and held on for a wild 42-40 victory. The win showed Pittsburg senior Madden Petty’s impressive all-around game and the Purple Dragons’ strong depth and rebounding.
Overall, Pittsburg finished plus-15 on the glass and limited Webb City to 24 percent shooting. Plus, coach Kris Crotts believed the victory gave the squad confidence and has helped propel a 6-0 start.
Pittsburg bumped to sixth in Class 5A in the latest Kansas Basketball Coaches Association rankings released Jan. 19. The Purple Dragons have an average margin of 55-39. Pittsburg, Maize, Lansing and No. 1 Andover Central are the four unbeaten teams in 5A girls. All four teams are ranked in the top-six. Pittsburg was unranked in the Dec. 22 poll. Although we haven't exactly figured out the last time Dragons were ranked, we estimate that it was nearly over 20 years ago. The last time PHS has made a state tournament on the girls side was 1999. PHS has made six state tournaments (1977, 1980, 1981, 1989, 1998, 1999).
“The girls are playing well and really bought in,” Crotts said.
After three straight sub-.500 seasons, Pittsburg girls are southeast Kansas’ surprise team in 2020-21. The Purple Dragons are part of a bunched Southeast Kansas League that includes Labette County, Chanute and Independence. LC is ranked sixth in Class 4A, and Chanute has senior Kori Babcock, one of the state’s top all-around players. Pittsburg is in the Blue Valley Southwest sub-state with second-ranked St. Thomas Aquinas (7-1).
Crotts said the season has yielded “some frustrations” with Pittsburg faced with COVID-19 quarantine. In 10 days during early to mid-Feb., the Purple Dragons will face Chanute twice and Labette County once, a stretch that will likely determine the SEK race. Last year, Pittsburg finished 9-12, 7-5 in the SEK. Six-foot center Ela Hendrickson collected all-league honors.
This season, Petty returned to basketball after a year away. Three years ago, Petty paced all KSHSAA freshmen with 16 points per contest for a 9-11 team. As a sophomore, Petty averaged more than 24 points a game through the first half of the year, a stretch that yielded a nine-point loss to Webb City.
Last year, senior A.J. Fornelli served as the team’s ballhandler. Fornelli’s dad, Bob, is the Pittsburg State baseball coach. He has longtime successful stints with Fort Hays and Emporia State, including a national runner-up at both schools. This season, Fornelli has often served as Pittsburg’s third ballhandler. Freshman Jacqueline Hall and Petty have taken more ball-handling responsibilities.
Crotts said the point guard depth “really helps us.” All five starters have had at least one game with 15 points. Along with the point guards and Hendrickson, Jaya Minniefield and Natalie Talent have served as key players.
Petty tallied 14 versus Webb City, part of an all-around effort in the comeback. Pittsburg was down 32-20 before Petty had an assist for a Hendrickson basket. Then, Petty sunk a jumper and a trey.
Minniefield scored off an offensive rebound, and Talent tallied a basket on a drive. Pittsburg took a 33-32 lead when Petty blocked a shot, grabbed her own defensive rebound and scored on a fast break.
The Purple Dragons overcame several obstacles down the stretch. Fornelli missed some brief time with a knee injury. Pittsburg and Webb City each picked up a technical foul with 4:50 remaining. Also in the fourth quarter, Petty subbed out from the 7:50 mark to 4:07 left because of foul trouble. Without Petty, Pittsburg was plus-1 and extended its lead to 39-36.
Petty returned and sunk the game's final points with 1:53 left. Pittsburg inbounded the ball from underneath the basket. Petty ran the baseline with a double screen. Minniefield passed to the top of the arc and Fornelli found Petty on the right sideline for a trey.
Petty fouled out with 1:15 remaining, though Pittsburg kept WC without scoring. The Purple Dragons never made a free throw in the second half. Minniefield and Hendrickson combined for 11 rebounds in the final 14 minutes.
In the final 14, Pittsburg held Webb City to 1 of 21 shooting, including a desperation guard 3-pointer at the buzzer that elicited a Purple Dragon celebration. Since play restarted this month, Pittsburg defeated Fort Scott, 50-39, on Jan. 14, and 51-41 versus Ottawa on Feb. 15. Pittsburg will face Carl Junction, a very strong Missouri team, on Thursday. Win or lose the game will definitely help the Dragons in preparation for the 5A sub-state.
Craw-Kan “Your Technology Partner" and Sports in Kansas will once again be in partnership over the 2020-2021 school year to release a "Craw-Kan Team of the Week" for the seventh consecutive season.
"I am looking forward to this partnership again for another year with Craw-Kan and highlighting teams from the SEK area to not only a local platform but also giving them statewide reach on our network, it's became quite the popular feature over the last six or seven years," said Sports in Kansas CEO, Chet Kuplen. "Not only does this help athletes and teams to be promoted for their achievements, it also lets the area know what all the new products that Craw-Kan has to offer, including new gigabit fiber now in the area. Also that Craw-Kan is now in Frontenac and Pittsburg. It's also going to several other areas in Southeast Kansas. We are also doing a Craw-Kan All-Access show this year with video of interviews with athletes that will feature reporter Bethany Bowman.”
"Craw-Kan offers all your technology needs in the area from internet to web design and cell phones to security systems." said Craw-Kan Marketing Manager, Zach Adams. "We have a lot of new products including the fastest internet in the area in the new gigabit fiber, we are also in Frontenac and Pittsburg with our service. We are very excited with all the new products we have to offer to the area."
Nominations will be accepted from every Friday-Sunday, with the "Craw-Kan Team of the Week" being released every Monday-Wednesday on Sports in Kansas (Kansas-Sports.com). Teams must be nominated via email or twitter.
Teams must be from the following leagues in the Southeast Kansas area to be eligible: SEK, CNC, TRL, plus Erie, Pittsburg and Parsons.
Craw-Kan and Sports in Kansas will also partner in releasing a "All Craw-Kan Team" for the Southeast Kansas area after postseason play has wrapped up.
How to nominate?
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