Girls Varsity Basketball · #1 Lady Trojans vs. #3 Lady Junior Blues – Round 2

This time, it’s big: High, Rural girls clash with Centennial League title on the line

Brent Maycock

Topeka Capital-Journal
Lilly Smith (5) came up big for Topeka High's girls in a 53-49 win over Washburn Rural in early January, scoring a career-high 21 points, while also making two big defensive plays late. High and Rural meet again Friday with the Centennial League title hanging in the balance.

Following his team’s 53-49 loss at Topeka High in early December, Washburn Rural coach Kevin Bordewick downplayed the significance of the game.

And he maintained that his feelings would have been the same if the Junior Blues had won the early-season showdown between the city’s two powerhouse programs.

“Everybody blows it up as a big game, and it was a tough game,” Bordewick said after the game. “But I don’t think the sixth game of the season is a big game.”

When No. 3 Rural plays host to No. 1 Topeka High on Friday, there’s no denying that this time the significance of the game matches the hype going into it. With a win, Topeka High can all but clinch the Centennial League championship.

And if Rural has any hopes of at least sharing the league title, Friday is a must-win.

“It’s another test for us,” Bordewick said following his team’s 50-31 win over Seaman on Tuesday. “Just like tonight was, just like last Thursday was. We have to show up mentally a little more than we have been.”

Rural comes into Friday’s showdown with a 13-1 overall record (10-1 in league play) with the lone loss coming to High. In the January meeting, the Junior Blues led by three, 49-46, with just under two minutes to play before High rallied.

NiJaree Canady scored two straight baskets to give High the lead for good, and Lilly Smith came up with two huge steals late to seal the four-point Trojan win.

Smith was huge at both ends, scoring a career-high 21 points in addition to her late defensive heroics. Canady added 18 points and leads the Trojans in scoring this year at 20.8 points per game, just ahead of Kiki Smith’s 18.1.

The Trojans rolled past Manhattan 66-33 on Wednesday night in its final tune-up for the showdown. The win pushed High’s record to 15-0 on the season (12-0 in league play) and their winning streak to 38 straight games, longest currently in the state.

High’s victory over Rural was its only game decided by less than double-digits and the Trojans have had only two other games decided by fewer than 28 points. With her team’s sights set on finishing a run at a state title after having last year’s bid ended by COVID-19, High coach Hannah Alexander said the Trojans need exactly what Friday’s game presents.

“You want these tough games,” Alexander said. “This is what basketball is all about. We’ve got to beat good teams to be at the top.”