BY JIM MISUNAS
LIBERAL – The Great Bend girls basketball team was one play away from shocking No. 9 state-ranked 6A Liberal. The underdog Panther girls played their best basketball game of the season Friday.
An unlikely storybook finish ended with a heartbreaking loss for the 11th consecutive time against Liberal. WAC leader Redskins (11-3, 4-0 WAC) escaped with a 45-41 victory by outscoring the Panthers 9-2 in the home stretch.
"We knew it would take a full four quarters," said Great Bend coach Cindy Beck. "It was a battle all night, four quarters going at it. I'm proud of the things we did tonight. We stepped up. We have to learn and get better from this."
The Panthers executed a confident game plan, leading 39-36 with 21/2 minutes left after Sadie Spray and Taryn Warren each converted two free throws.
Liberal's best outside shooter Hailey Contreras made the Panthers pay with an unguarded 3-pointer for a 39-39 tie. After Liberal's Rylie Hallman made a free throw, Panther McKenzie Premer drilled a clutch 15-foot shot for a 41-40 lead.
Carrillo responded the game's game-winning play with a driving shot for a 42-41 lead. After a Panther turnover, Carrillo converted two free throws when the Panthers fouled the Redskins' best clutch player for a 44-41 lead with 30 seconds left. The Panthers' attempt to launch a potential tying 3-point shot didn't develop as planned.
The Panthers controlled the game's tempo and outworked and outcoached the Redskins. Time-after-time, the Panthers converted clutch shots. Emilee Hall played brilliantly in a 15-point effort. Sadie Spray chipped in 10 points. Hall benefited from assists by Warren and Spray and dished an assist to Warren.
"We handled their pressure," Beck said. "Teams want to press up, so that's been a big focus. We did a heck of a job getting into a halfcourt game."
The Panthers built a 22-14 first-half lead with solid play at both ends. Carrillo swung momentum by scoring nine second-quarter points. She knocked down 10 of 14 free throws. Liberal converted 6 of 19 3-pointers to outscore the Panthers 18-0 from long range.
Panther defenders Emma Loomis and McKenzie Premer shadowed Carrillo, but she got to the free throw line with hard attacks to the basket. Contreras knocked down four 3-pointers for 12 points.
"Emma Loomis and Kenzie (Premer) stepped up and helped," Beck said. "It's really tough when a girl is driving the basketball right at you. Liberal showed they are a good shooting team. They hit some big 3s that hurt us."
The Panthers (4-10, 0-4 WAC) return home Tuesday against Buhler.
Great Bend 11 11 11 8 – 41
Liberal 2 14 17 12 — 45
GREAT BEND (4-10, 0-4)—Hall 5-9 5-10 15, Spray 3-7 4-4 10, Warren 2-5 2-2 6, Premer 3-7 0-0 6, Kaiser 2-2 0-2 4, Totals 15-30 11-18 41.
LIBERAL (11-3, 4-0)—Carrillo 3-9 1-14 16, Contreras 4-10 0-0 12, Hall 0-3 0-2 0, Hatcher 2-5 0-0 4, Hallman 2-5 3-4 7, Hornya 2-8 0-0 5, Cisneros 0-2 0-2 0, Totals 13-42 13-22 45.
3-pointers—GB 0-4 (Premer 0-1, Spray 0-3), L 6-19 (Contreras 4-10, Carrillo 10-3, Hornya 1-4, Hallman 0-1, Hall 0-1).