BY JIM MISUNAS
LARNED — Hoisington's defense slowed down Hugoton's high-powered offense during the first half. But Hugoton's aggressive second-half offensive game plan of attacking the basket worked like magic.
The No. 5 ranked Eagles battled past the 10th-ranked Cardinals 52-47 in a premier matchup of 3A state powers. Hugoton shot 22 second-half free throws by attacking the basket and grabbing 10 offensive rebounds that produced 13 second-chance points after halftime.
Hugoton (20-2) rides a 20-game winning streak into the championship game while Hoisington ends with a 17-5 record. The game featured a physical style by both teams, but the Eagles took advantage by attacking the basket.
The Cardinals had no defensive answer for Hugoton's athletic and quick Sawyer Harper who scored 30 points keyed by 12 of 20 free throw shooting.
"We had a hard time defending Harper. Sawyer Harper killed us on the boards," said Hoisington coach Kyle Haxton. "He won the ball game for them. It was one man getting it done. They showed the ability to attack the basket. They stayed in attack mode."
The Cardinals' defensive game worked flawlessly the first half. Hugoton missed all six first-half 3-pointers. Harper kept the Eagles within range with a shocking 18-point first half. Hoisington's Drew Nicholson scored 18 first-half points and Mason Haxton scored eight first-quarter points for a 32-25 halftime lead.
Haxton liked the way the Cardinals performed.
"It was an absolutely tough loss, but there was a lot to be proud of," Haxton said. "We led most of the game. We refused to lose. We played with a chip on our shoulder defensively."
But Hugoton adjusted after halftime to attack the basket and boards. The Cardinals chose to defend the 3-point line against a superior shooting team. Hugoton converted 1 of 13 3-pointers. Hugoton's only 3-pointer by Carson Bennett on a pass by Haden Daharsh gave the Eagles a 37-34 third-quarter lead they never lost.
"You've got to stop the drive or cover the shooters," Haxton said. "We never gave up 3s."
Nicholson enjoyed his usual sterling night with 23 points and Mason Haxton added 12 points. Ryan Woydziak was solid on both ends with a pair of 3-pointers for eight points and sparkling defense.
But the Cardinals misfired after halftime with 5 of 25 shooting, including a 1 for 15 start to trail 41-37. The Cardinals missed 11 field goals during a 2-point third quarter.
"We needed more post touches and needed to attack the basket better," Haxton said. "We settled for perimeter shots. We took quick shots and sometimes bad shots."
Woydziak converted a banked 3-pointer and Nicholson hit a 3-pointer for a 47-45 deficit. But Hugoton's Jayce Korf blocked a 3-pointer and stole the basketball to preserve Hugoton's lead. Hugoton scored 14 points on free throws and 13 points on field goals after halftime.
Hoisington 13 19 2 13 — 47
Hugoton 9 16 9 18 — 52
HOISINGTON (17-5)—Nicholson 8-17 5-6 23, Mason Haxton 4-16 4-5 12, Woydziak 3-4 0-0 8, Chase Robinson 1-4 0-0 2, Thompson 1-6 0-0 2 Leyton Haxton 0-3 0-0 0, Hanzlick 0-3 0-0 0, Totals 17-53 9-11 47
HUGOTON (20-2)—Harper 9-17 12-20 30, Daharsh 3-5 3-7 9, Angell 2-4 1-4 5, Bennett 2-2 0-0 5, Korf 1-11 0-0 2, Riddlesparger 0-2 1-2 1, Mecklenburg 0-2 0-1 0, Totals 17-43 17-34 52
3-pointers—Hoisington 4-20 (Woydziak 2-3, Nicholson 2-7, M. Haxton 0-1, Hanzlick 0-2, L. Haxton 0-3, Thompson 0-4); Hugoton 1-13 (Bennett 1-1, Harper 0-1, Angell 0-2, Riddlesperger 0-2, Korf 0-7)