Bellevue West coach Rick Mintken said he’s been waiting two years for the victory.
And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that senior guard Chloe Akin-Otiko helped make it happen.
Akin-Otiko scored 13 of her game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter to lead the No. 9 Thunderbirds to a 58-54 win over No. 1 Millard West. The Thunderbirds moved to 10-3 while the Wildcats (11-1) suffered their first loss.
It was a big victory for Mintken, a former Millard West assistant in his second season as Bellevue West’s coach.
“We haven’t had what I would really call an upset win since I’ve been here,” he said. “We finally got one tonight.”
The Thunderbirds came ready to play, despite a road game Friday night in North Platte 280 miles away. Mintken said the team came home immediately after the game and arrived at about 11 p.m., though he stayed for the boys game and didn’t get back until 2:45 a.m. Saturday.
“We had a shootaround this morning and I thought the team looked pretty good,” he said. “And I knew we’d be fired up to play them.”
The Thunderbirds, who lost to Millard West 58-54 in the Metro holiday tournament, led 14-10 after the first quarter Saturday night. That lead grew to 30-20 by halftime as Bellevue West freshman Akili Felici poured in 16 first-half points.
But the Wildcats stormed back in the third to take the lead, outscoring Bellevue West 20-6. Sophomore Lauren Rongisch had eight points in the period as Millard West carried a 40-36 advantage into the final period.
“We laid an egg in that quarter,” Mintken said. “I would have been really upset if we’d have let this one slip away.”
That didn’t happen in large part because of Akin-Otiko, a Kansas track recruit who was in high gear the entire fourth quarter. She scored 11 straight, including a three-point play with 4:16 left that put Bellevue West on top for good.
Two baskets by Philomena Lammers and a 3-pointer by Rongisch kept Millard West close, but a pair of late free throws by Mia Felici — Akili’s big sister — iced the win.
“That last minute seemed to last an eternity,” Mintken said.
Akin-Otiko said the 8-hour round trip to North Platte wasn’t going to sidetrack the Thunderbirds.
“It’s always interesting riding in a bus that long,” she said. “But we came together tonight, and we really wanted to beat the No. 1 team.”
Akin-Otiko added that she also had a little added motivation, playing against former Bellevue West coach Marc Kruger.
“To beat our old coach, that’s kind of a personal thing,” she said. “We needed to make sure that we held on.”
Kruger said the Wildcats’ third-quarter run might have taken something out of his team in the fourth quarter.
“I think we ran out of gas,” he said. “That slow start also hurt us, but they were the better team tonight.”
Akili Felici finished with 17, while sophomore center Laura Jurek had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Lammers led Millard West with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Rongisch finished with 11 points.
“I was really hoping we’d come out ready to play,” Mintken said. “And the team didn’t let me down.”
Millard West (11-1) ........................................... 10 10 20 14—54
At Bellevue West (10-3) ................................... 14 16 6 22—58
MW: Lauren Rongisch 4-11 0-0 11, Jaylin Bosak 2-7 3-7 7, Logan Black 3-7 1-2 9, Philomena Lammers 6-8 3-4 15, Courtney Merryweather 4-10 0-1 8, Nicole Hruby 2-3 0-0 4.
BW: Courtney Morehead 1-1 0-0 2, Mia Felici 1-4 2-3 5, Abby Hansen 0-3 0-0 0, Akili Felici 6-13 3-5 17, Chloe Akin-Otiko 10-18 4-4 24, Laura Jurek 4-12 1-1 10.
3-point goals: MW 5-16 (Rongisch 3-7, Black 2-6, Bosak 0-2, Merryweather 0-1), BW 4-17 (A. Felici 2-6, Jurek 1-3, M. Felici 1-4, Hansen 0-2, Akin-Otiko 0-2). Rebounds: MW 35 (Lammers 10), BW 26 (Jurek 10). Total fouls: MW 15, BW 14. Turnovers: MW 18, BW 12. Field-goal percentage: MW .456, BW .431. Free-throw percentage: MW .500, BW .769.
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