HAYS — With second place in the Western Athletic Conference at stake, you knew it was going to be a Hays barn-burner on a cold, wintry Friday night out west.
Sure enough, Great Bend High School and Hays’ girls’ basketball teams traded baskets throughout in the conference and regular-season finale.
Translation? No barn-burner would be complete without a few dagger free throws to silence the hometown crowd.
The momentum seemed to be shifting to the host Lady Indians favor after Paige Lunsford converted a three-point play with 1:22 left in regulation. It cut the margin to 46-45, but reliable free-throw shooting by Great Bend helped put away forced-to-foul Hays.
The Lady Panthers converted 5 of 8 free throws in the final 52 seconds to salt away a 51-46 road victory, clinching second place in the final WAC standings with a 5-3 record. Hays finishes at 4-3.
“It means a lot to us,” said guard Lexie Brack, who canned 3 of 4 during Great Bend’s late march to the foul line to assure itself WAC runner-up status after finishing fourth last season.
“It feels like we’ve really gained, and we feel a lot better about ourselves this year. We knew it was going to be a loud gym and we prepared ourselves all week and communication was our key and that’s exactly what we did.”
With Hays only a 3-pointer away from tying the game after Brack’s makes, it was only fitting that a pair of her senior backcourt mates helped seal the deal. Kalie LeShore made the second of two pressure free throws with 17.9 seconds remaining and Jennifer Allende did the same at the 8.9 mark — Allende’s free throws coming after Hays turned the ball over with 13 ticks to go.
“It’s tough to beat a team three times in a row,” Great Bend head coach Jason Tatkenhorst said of his team sweeping Hays. “We’ re really excited about that. We struggled a little bit in the second quarter, but overall we played well for four quarters. ... we’ve got to play our best basketball in February.”
Great Bend, 9-11 overall, now shifts its focus to the Class 5A sub-state tournament. The Lady Panthers will have to become Road Warriors in hopes of qualifying for the state tournament in Topeka.
Great Bend travels to McPherson on Wednesday night for a first-round sub-state game, starting at 7. The winning team advances to a sub-state final on Friday night at 7 at sub-state site Salina South.
Back to Friday night’s game. Behind 11 first-half points from another senior, Great Bend forward Cassidy Tutak, the Lady Panthers seized a 22-21 halftime lead — a byproduct of 10-for-11 first-half free-throw shooting, where they ultimately finished an impressive 21 for 27.
While Tutak was contained for much of the second half, her GBHS teammates stepped to the fore. Junior post player Liz Kutina scored some key points after Hays took its first-and-only lead of the game, 23-22, just 10 seconds into the third quarter.
Kutina’s pair of free throws sparked a 10-4 splurge to give the Lady Panthers a 32-27 lead with 1:46 left in the period. Brack added 1 of 2 free throws, followed by LeShore hitting a driving layup, Kutina knocking down a 10-footer and senior Taycee Bunn sinking 1 of 2 at the line.
After a Hays bucket, Allende then scored off a putback with 0:02 left in the period, giving the Panthers a 34-29 cushion entering the final quarter.
Bunn drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing at the 7:08 mark, and then Brack hit a trifecta at the 5:55 mark to hike Great Bend’s lead to 40-32.
But Emily Pfeifer drained back-to-back deep 3s, the second coming at the 5:08 mark to slash the margin to 40-38. But Pfeifer was whistled for her fifth foul at the 4:57 mark and with her exit went the Lady Indians’ perimeter fortunes.
LeShore then stepped to the line and converted both free throws for a 42-38 lead. After Hays’ Hanna Pfannenstiel angled in a twisting, short-range basket to make it 42-40, yet another GBHS senior had an answer as Jordan Haney hit back-to-back baskets, the second a shot from the baseline at the 3:37 mark to increase the margin to 46-40.
Great Bend clung to its one-point halftime lead after Hays closed the gap with a 14-7 run during the second quarter.
Tutak was dominant in the early stages, making all four of the Lady Panthers’ field goals in the first half. She also converted all three of her free throws for 11 opening-half points.
Great Bend held a slim 6-5 lead midway through the first quarter before Tutak’s three-point play led it to a half-ending 9-2 run during the final 3:42 of the half.
Tutak capped her surge by hitting a short-range basket as the halftime buzzer sounded.
Tutak and Brack led the Lady Panthers with 13 points apiece. Kutina finished with 10 points, including 6-for-6 at the foul line.
NOTES — Senior guard Kaitlee Spray missed her second straight game after suffering a concussion eight days ago early in the game during Great Bend’s road WAC win at Liberal. … Dodge City repeated as conference champions, capturing the crown with a 6-1 mark. Both Dodge and Hays played one fewer regular-season/WAC game as their makeup game on Thursday was postponed because of the winter storm that hit Western Kansas.
HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
Western Athletic Conference
Great Bend 51, Hays 46
GREAT BEND (9-11, 5-3)
Brandi Schneider 0 0-0 0, Lexie Brack 4 4-6 13, Kelsey Crosby 0 0-0 0, Liz Kutina 2 6-6 10, Jennifer Allende 0 1-2 1, Taycee Bunn 1 2-4 4, Cassidy Tutak 5 3-3 13, Kalie LeShore 0 6-8 6, Jordan Haney 2 0-0 4. Totals 14 21-27 51.
HAYS (9-10, 4-3)
Paige Lunsford 3 6-8 12, Emily Pfeifer 3 0-0 8, Janae Gagnon 3 2-4 8, Taylor Herman 0 0-0 0, Hanna Pfannenstiel 4 0-0 9, Katelyn Schumacher 2 0-1 4, Lindsey Schmeidler 2 1-2 5. Totals 17 9-15 46.
Great Bend 15 7 12 17 — 51
Hays 7 14 8 17 — 46
Three-point goals — Hays 3 (Pfeifer 2, Pfannenstiel); Great Bend 2 (Brack, Bunn).