By CONOR NICHOLL
DODGE CITY – Pretty Prairie coach Scott Goering has continually preached defense and rebounding. They focus on rebounding each drill. PP assistant Jenny Harbaugh is relentless about the boards and preaches “block out, block out and rebound, rebound, rebound.” Those hallmarks have turned around the Bulldogs, who won 18 games last winter and led Kansas in offensive rebounding most of 2020-21.
This year, PP has squelched numerous opponents and reached state for the first time since 2000. Pretty Prairie has significant height, especially with standout 6-foot senior McKenna Vogl, a Barton County Community College signing, and 5-foot-10 junior Bailey Young.
On Saturday, Pretty Prairie’s defense and rebounding, plus two huge late shots from senior reserve Abigail White, led the Bulldogs to a 37-35 win against Centralia in the Class 1A, Division I state championship game.
“It’s amazing,” Vogl said. “It’s been a dream, just like the entire ride, just getting here is a dream, and this is still hard to take in.”
The game had 15 lead changes, including six in the fourth quarter at Dodge City’s United Wireless Arena. Pretty Prairie had the game’s biggest lead at six points.
“I definitely got a little nervous, but then I knew we were going to pull out,” Vogl said. “Just because we had just good defense all the way around.”
PP defeated unbeaten Hodgeman County and Centralia in back-to-back games. At one critical juncture Saturday, Goering yelled at his team “We have got to rebound.”
“Rebounding is key in every drill that we do,” White said. “Rebounding gets us the ball, so that we can score, but defense gets us those rebounds.”
White finished 3 of 6 with eight points and five rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench. A University of St. Mary cross country and track signing, White finished two off her career high.
“Honestly, I just found a way to get open,” White said. “And I was like, ‘Well, I am here, so might as well take this shot,’ and I am just lucky enough to have a couple of coaches that taught me how to shoot well, and they went in, so my teammates got me open, and I just made the shot.”
Pretty Prairie finished 25-1 and allowed 25.1 points a contest, one of the best scoring defenses in state history. 2020 Central Plains holds the record with 21.2. The five seniors, Vogl, White, Grace Webster, Aubrey Young, and point guard Jorah Harbaugh, have played basketball together for more than 10 years. Vogl called her team “very aggressive.”
“Our defense won the game for us,” Vogl said. “Defense and rebounding. I think it’s just our size and that athletic, just being able to jump higher, and be tall, so then it helps rebounding.”
Pretty Prairie held Centralia to 24 percent shooting and finished plus-8 on the glass. PP had collected 43 percent of available offensive rebounds – an elite rate – in late February. The Bulldogs grabbed 42 percent of offensive rebounds versus Centralia.
“It was all about defense and rebounding, like usual,” Goering said.
Vogl, known for her farm work in the Pretty Prairie area, delivered 10 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks. She played the last 2 minutes, 52 seconds with four fouls. Vogl gains her toughness through working in the hot summer.
“She is persistent, she is determined,” White said. “Everything that you can ask in a basketball player.”
The Bulldogs had taken second in 1978 and ’96. Centralia had its elite sister duo of senior Avery Deters and freshman Oen Deters. In the last 10 seconds, Avery had a good look and missed a 3-pointer from the right side.
After PP missed a foul shot, Oen dribbled down and her guarded buzzer-beater trey hit the backboard and rim. Centralia, with three seniors and no player over 5-foot-7, finished 25-1. In volleyball, Pretty Prairie finished second to Spearville and earned a three-set victory against Centralia in the state semifinals.
In its last six games, Pretty Prairie allowed 25.7 points a game. Five of those six teams won 20 contests or more. Those squads went 112-7 when not playing Pretty Prairie this season.
“Like we have done all year, our defense and our rebounding has won us (25) games,” Goering said. “…And then we make some shots. That’s what we have relied on all year, is we have got to get stops down the stretch, and we have to rebound. And the other end happens. We move the ball, we take good shots, we do things like that, and then good things happen. If we take good shots like we did at the end of the game, we make some.”
The Panthers had won five games by four points or fewer and delivered a comeback in a 53-45 semifinal victory versus Burlingame. Roger Holthaus, a 30-year coaching veteran and 1986 Centralia graduate, said this was the most fun team he’s ever had. He called the team an “overachieving group.”
“Very, very, very happy with my girls,” Holthaus said. “I am so proud. I told them in the locker room, ‘We didn’t lose the game. We just ran out of time.’ In my heart, they are champions.”
Holthaus believed Centralia’s legs “were shot” with three games in three days. The Deters sisters scored all but two of Centralia’s points. Avery scored 17, Oen 16.
“We knew from the very beginning that they were very offensive-dominant,” White said. “But we knew that we were defensive dominant. I mean, we can score on offense as you can see, but defensively, we knew that we could control them. Even being tall, we decided that we would play guard-heavy and post would sit in the middle and help me out on (Oen Deters).”
Centralia led 13-12 after the first quarter, though Pretty Prairie used a 5-0 run for a 24-21 advantage at halftime. PP was up 29-28 entering the fourth. Then, Centralia took a 30-29 lead with 6:50 left.
“They are impossible to defend,” Goering said. “So you just hope they miss some shots, and they did. I mean, I think our defense has a lot to do with that, flying at them and doing stuff like that, but when those shots go up, you just hope you get a rebound.”
PP regained the lead when Vogl scored off a Harbaugh pass. The game was tied at 32 when White hit a jumper from the foul line off a screen with 2:57 left.
“She is a gamer,” Goering said. “I mean, she is a stud in cross country and has been for four years now, and state cross country she shows up and performs. And it wasn’t just tonight. … Hit huge shots in every (state) game.”
White averaged three points a game during the regular season. However, Centralia took a 35-34 advantage with 2:23 remaining when Avery Deters scored down low. Vogl called White the team’s clutch shooter.
“It was pretty open, and I knew if I got too many bounces in, I would get blocked, so I just took it right there and made the jumper,” White said. “I just had a great screen, and I didn’t have anyone around.”
With 1:20 left, White ran to the top of the arc and sunk a 3. She had nine treys in her first 19 games. Oen Deters narrowly missed a trey off the back iron. Then, Centralia had fouls to give. They fouled twice and stole the inbounds pass with 17.5 seconds left.
“It was just high-low,” White said. “I think they came down and screened and I was able to flash up top and again, my teammates did a great job of screening for me and getting me wide-open.”
Centralia missed the two final treys, eliciting an on-court celebration for Pretty Prairie. The Panthers fell to their knees, tears streaming from their eyes. Even on those shots, Goering’s mind went straight to PP’s mantra.
“Get a rebound,” Goering said. “Get a rebound, because we are forcing tough shots, and if they make them, they make them. But that’s all we can do. I mean, those (Centralia) girls are incredible.”