YUKON — Coach Arnelia Spears strutted out to half-court at Yukon High School and danced a little shimmy as her team mobbed her Thursday night. She said she just couldn't help herself.
Spears couldn't have been more pleased. She couldn't have been more proud.
Millwood (23-6) defeated defending Class 3A girls state champion Kansas, 51-48. The Falcons will battle Prague for the state title at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at State Fair Arena.
But the Comets didn't make it easy. Kansas (24-3) opened the game with a 12-3 lead in the first quarter and rode its fast start to a 24-19 lead at halftime.
In the first half, Comet guards Kelsey Barnwell and Courtney Cowen combined for 19 points. Their second-half play helped bring the Comets within a 3-pointer of tying the game and sending the contest into overtime.
Junior guard Teanna Reid admitted stopping the Kansas backcourt was Millwood's first priority.
“We knew we had to stop Kelsey Barnwell and Courtney Cowen, and that was our goal,” she said. “If we shut them down, we knew it was in our hands.”
After taking its first lead of the evening with 7:37 left to play, Millwood extended that lead to as many as nine points before Kansas began chipping away with made free throws while the Falcons struggled at the charity stripe.
Millwood converted just 3-of-9 attempts at the line in the first half. Spears said free-throw shooting was the one facet where she was disappointed in her team's performance.
“We had our main free-throw shooters at line, and Quira (Demery) normally doesn't miss free-throws,” she said.
Kansas created a habit of attacking the rim late in the fourth quarter and working its way onto the free-throw line. But it only converted 2-of-7 attempts in the final three minutes of the game.
Falcons forward Lauren Fonteno had scored just six points in the first half. But in the second, she reeled off 15 points to lead all scorers with 21 in the game. Nine of her points were scored in the game's final quarter.
“When there were 20 seconds left on the clock and they kept making their free throws, but I knew we could pull it off,” Fonteno said. “I had faith in our team.”
Spears said the senior suffered from a hamstring issue before the game, and she thought of sitting her best post player. But Fonteno would have none of it, and Spears gave her an opportunity.
“It's not the talent, it's the heart in the kid that wants to go,” Spears said. “You can't beat a kid that wants to win. You can't beat that athlete that has that desire, and she had that desire tonight.”