SALINA — In the end, Salina South High School’s frontline depth proved too much for the Great Bend Lady Panthers to overcome.
One victory from advancing to the Class 5A state tournament in Topeka, Great Bend exchanged jabs with South throughout on Friday night in a sub-state championship game.
After leading 23-17 at halftime, South went on a 21-17 run in a decisive third quarter and kept the Lady Panthers out of arm’s reach in the late going to post a 56-46 victory.
South (16-5) advances to the state tournament at the Kansas Expocentre, which starts on Thursday.
Great Bend, featuring a lineup with all underclassmen, closes its season at 14-7 after enduring a nightmarish 3-18 campaign in 2011-12.
“We knew that South was going come out and be very strong from the get-go,” Lady Panthers first-year head coach Carrie Minton said. “From the opening tip, (South) they played and shot the ball really well.
“I was really proud of the fact that even though we were down at halftime, our girls maintained composure and continued to work hard. We made a couple of runs at them, but South being the team it is, came back and hit some big shots.”
GBHS had no answer on the low post in trying to stop South’s 5-11 center, Janai Mitchell, who scored a game-high 15 points, or 5-11 senior forward Cassidy Cook, who finished with 14 points.
Sophomore guard Emilee Holloway finished with 13 points for the Lady Cougars. She hit a pair of 3-pointers and Cook scored six points during the Lady Cougars’ third-quarter surge for a 44-31 advantage.
South’s 5-9 senior guard, Megan Holloway, who has signed to play at Emporia State, totaled nine points.
“Unfortunately, for us, our game plan was to stop (Megan) Holloway and the girls did a good job of doing that, but when doing that they left some other girls open, who stepped up and hit some shots,” Minton said.
It changed the dynamics of the Lady Panthers in the first half, when junior forward Tarynn Stueder drew her second foul at the one-minute mark in the first quarter and junior center Morgan Harwood was whistled for her second foul in the second quarter.
“It was unfortunate and it was part of the excitement of the game,” Minton said. “The girls were giving everything they have and you’re not going to complain when they’re getting hustle fouls.”
Great Bend, which was paced by Harwood with 12 points and sophomore guard Regan Unruh with 10, outscored South 15-12 in the final period but came up short.
Stueder added eight points and junior guard McKenna Mauler finished with seven.
Harwood scored inside at the 3:05 mark and then Stueder scored off a drive to the hoop with 2:30 remaining, although she missed the free throw on a three-point play opportunity.
But Cook scored inside and the Lady Cougars, who made 17 of 24 from the line, added 2 of 4 free throws to push the margin up to 54-44 with 54.8 seconds left, effectively sealing the game.
“We really came together well as a team this year,” Harwood said. “Our team has a lot of heart and always sticks together until the end.”
After watching South hoist the sub-state championship plaque, it might be the Lady Panthers doing the same thing at this time next season with everyone coming back.
“It’s tough to convince a locker room full of girls who just poured their hearts out,” Minton said. “If we give it a little bit of time, the girls will be hungry for that trophy next year.
“It was fun to watch them grow from Day One to what we saw on the floor today.”
Stueder said the Lady Panthers already have high expectations for next year.
“I feel like we really need to hit the weight room,” she said. “It will take practice, commitment and sticking together.
“Compared to last year, we had so much fun and there were a lot of smiles and laughter.”
HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
Class 5A Sub-State Basketball Tournament
Salina South High School
No. 2 seed Salina South 56, No. 3 Great Bend 46
GREAT BEND (14-7)
Lauren Welsch 0 1-2 1, Hannah Hildebrand 0 2-2 2, Kelsie Doll 2 0-0 6, Kylee Spray 0 0-0 0, Regan Unruh 3 3-4 10, Kaylie Doll 0 0-0 0, McKenna Mauler 3 1-1 7, Tarynn Stueder 3 1-3 8, Morgan Harwood 5 2-2 12, Madison Unruh 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 10-14 46.
SALINA SOUTH (16-5)
Janai Mitchell 4 7-9 15, Teryn Holloway 0 0-0 0, Megan Holloway 4 1-2 9, Emilee Holloway 2 7-10 13, Emily Webb 1 2-2 5, Cassidy Cook 7 0-1 14, Bayli Humman 0 0-0 0, McKenzie Haynes 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 17-24 56.
Great Bend 7 10 14 15 — 46
Salina South 14 9 21 12 — 56
Three-point goals — Great Bend 4 (Kel. Doll 2, Stueder, Mauler); Salina South 3 (E. Holloway 2, Emily Webb). Total fouls — Great Bend 19, Salina South 14. Fouled out — None.