Derby girls fall short in Class 6A championship

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By Erin Kooser

Panther’s Tale

A comeback that will be remembered for years. With less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter Derby was trailing Manhattan by 18 points.

“Everyone had their heads down and I said guys come on like this is it. Let’s go and finish hard,” freshman guard Sydney Nilles said.

And that is what the Panthers did. Nilles made back-to-back layups after the Panthers’ pressure defense forced the Indians to turn the ball over.

But they were still down by 14 with 2:46 remaining.

“When we got down big I just told them like you guys have to sell out, go trap, read their eyes, get your hands on the ball, get a 10-second count, and I think we did all of that.” head coach Jodie Karsak said.

The Panthers did do all of that. Derby’s defense kept them in the game by creating turnovers and giving opportunities to score then get to the free-throw line.

In an attempt at an assist for three, sophomore Tor’e Alford went down after a frightening collision with an opponent’s knee. Nilles was fouled in the continuation of the same play and was at the line again to shoot her double bonus free throws.

“All I knew was that I had to put those free throws in. I mean, Tor’e –– it scared me I didn’t know if she broke anything. But when she got up I felt 100 times better,” Nilles said.

Alford was back up and in on the next play after the freshman made both her free throws.

The Panthers were back in it tying the game at 42 with less than a minute left.

Unfortunately Derby’s full-court pressure allowed Manhattan to score a lay-up with 12 seconds remaining.

There was still a chance. A full timeout was called. The crowd was on its feet and the “green is magic” chant began to ring in the arena.

“The crowd was on fire. I wonder if (Manhattan coach) Scott Mall was over there like, ‘what is going on?’ I mean I just can’t imagine being on the other end as a coach,” Karsak said.

Could this be the historic comeback? One that will be remembered in girls basketball state championship history for years? Would Derby make school history in earning its third state championship this school year?

With 3.9 seconds left, Alford inbounded the ball to Nilles, Nilles back to Alford for three.

Shot goes up … no good.

“She was like ‘that is going in’ and it didn’t … it was a stinger of course the way we came back,” Karsak said, “I told the girls that is what life is about, (when) you put all your passion into something and you really love something you can only say that you have been successful because you gave your best.”

Derby’s last minute efforts will be remembered as the best comeback that almost was.

“On the court just the way that they battled and came back and almost did the unbelievable. I don’t even have words to describe it,” Karsak said.

The common used for next year’s team is ‘bright.’ The Panthers return 11 of 12 varsity players after their longest postseason run under Karsak.
“We are going to come back stronger next year and gaining this experience, coming this far into the tournament. We know we can do it now and that’s all it takes,” sophomore Kennedy Brown said.

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Derby girls fall short in Class 6A championship