By NICK McQUEEN
Rexford-Golden Plains senior Hailee Spresser never really imagined what it would be like to do something no Bulldog girls' basketball team has done since 1974.
She had a little trouble trying to find the words when it actually happened.
But, her scoring burst in the fourth quarter of Friday's Class 1A Division II semifinal at Gross Memorial Coliseum helped push No. 3 seed Golden Plains up, then hold on for a 52-49 victory against No. 2 Bucklin.
Now, Golden Plains (22-3) will play in its first state title game in 40 years Saturday afternoon.
“This is crazy. I knew this was our goal and knew it was reachable,” said Spresser, one of two Bulldogs to post 20 points, along with senior Jordan Christensen. “I just never thought about it happening. Now, that it has, this is just awesome.”
Spresser's third- and fourth-quarter play, mixed with a good defensive effort by the Bulldogs, were a big reason for that. Spresser scored 14 of Golden Plains' 17 points in a stretch that helped create some separation against last year's third-place team from 1A Division I.
“We were able to get the ball inside, and she got herself turned and squared,” Bulldog coach Parker Christensen said. “And she was able to to make some nice post moves.”
Before that it was Jordan Christensen and sophomore Kami Miller that kept a good-shooting Bucklin team from running away with anything. Christensen hit a jumper in the first quarter that put the Bulldogs up 5-0, but the game got tighter when Bucklin senior Morgan Hood scored five straight points to make it 9-7.
From there, neither team gained more than a four-point advantage, but Bucklin made more field goals.
The final 1:35 of the second quarter saw four lead changes, with Golden Plains taking a 24-23 advantage into the locker room on Spresser's sixth point.
“I am so proud of the girls for hanging tough,” coach Christensen said of the first half. “They shot the ball so well early in the game, and Jordan kind of did the same thing and kept us even.
“We kind of settled in and played a little better defense.”
The game slowed to a crawl in the third quarter. Each went through a 4-minute scoring drought after Bucklin took a 30-28 lead.
“The shots just weren't falling,” Spresser said.
Then they were.
Spresser hit two free throws, Christensen hit her third 3-pointer of the game, then Spresser scored eight straight and the Bulldogs built a 48-40 lead.
“I dug deep,” Spresser said. “I knew this was my last weekend and I needed to finish it on a positive note. I dug down.”
She made it look easy for a while underneath.
“We're about the same size, but she had a good opportunity to get after it,” coach Christensen said of Spresser, who finished 9 of 13 from the field. “We had a good team effort today — offensively and defensively.”
But, Spresser admitted from there, the team got a little shaky. And it showed.
Bucklin junior Janae Price was able to steal an inbound pass, then convert a conventional 3-point play. That sparked a 7-0 run for the Red Aces, and it was 48-47 with :32.8 to play.
“I was nervous, I know that,” Spresser said. “I was shaking really bad. We turned it over, yeah, but we still came out on top.”
Christensen hit a pair of free throws to extend the lead back to 3. Then Hood, a Fort Hays State University signee, drove the length of the court, scored and got fouled.
“We just told them in the huddle 'no fouling,' ” coach Christensen said. “Make them make a tough shot, but don't foul them.
“When the game is on the line, and there is such emotion, it's hard to execute what you want.”
It was just enough as Hood missed the free throw, one of just two misses for the senior.
Christensen hit both ends of the bonus on the other side, then a 3-pointer by Price with 2 seconds left rimmed in and out to help Golden Plains hang on.
“Semifinal game last year, we had a lead until the final 2 minutes, and got a little nervous and couldn't hang on,” coach Christensen said. “I knew if we could get back to the same spot, we could do a little better, and we did.”
Price and Hood scored 17 points each for Bucklin, while Allyson Rudd scored 11. Outside of Christensen and Spresser, no Bulldogs put up more than four points.
Golden Plains awaits the winner of Friday's late game between fifth-seeded Dighton and top-seed Baileyville-B&B.
Class 1A Division II
Golden Plains 52, Bucklin 49
GOLDEN PLAINS (22-3)
Hailee Spresser 9-13 2-3 20, Jordan Christensen 5-13 7-8 20, Miller 1-2 1-2 4, Rush 0-2 4-4 4, Lobato 1-3 0-0 2, Ritter 1-1 0-0 2, Walz 0-1 0-0 0. Totals — 17-35 14-17 52.
Janae Price 7-12 1-3 17, Morgan Hood 5-14 6-8 17, Allyson Rudd 4-11 0-0 11, Austin 1-2 0-0 2, Demoret 0-1 0-0 0, Long 1-1 0-0 2, Pegelow 0-1 0-0 0. Totals — 18-42 7-11 49.
Golden Plains 11 13 9 19 — 52
Bucklin 7 1 9 17 — 49
3-point goals — Golden Plains 4-11 (Miller 1-2, Christensen 3-9); Bucklin 6-17 (Price 2-4, Hood 1-4, Rudd 3-8, Pegelow 0-1).
Rebounds — Golden Plains 36 (Spresser 7); Bucklin 30 (Hood 6). Turnovers — Golden Plains 29, Bucklin 32.