By AUSTIN COLBERT
TOPEKA — The Hays High School boys’ basketball team kept most of its emotions inside the locker room following Friday’s 48-40 loss to Topeka-Highland Park in the Class 5A semifinals at the Kansas Expocentre.
The loss — the first of the season for the Indians — came at the most unfortunate time, but Hays High coach Rick Keltner has done this long enough to know it shouldn’t overshadow the team’s historic season.
“Our kids are class acts. I’m so proud of them. I watched them hurt in there. We all got some tears going, but it’s because it’s been so much fun,” Keltner said. “We are supposed to be real sad right now because we all wanted to play for a state championship … but nobody is going to convince me we don’t have something to celebrate even though we lost this game.”
Until Friday, Hays High (23-1) had always been able to find a way to win. No scenario ever seemed too much for the Indians to overcome, including their 38-32 deficit to the Scots midway through the fourth quarter of Friday’s semifinal.
Needing something magical to happen as it has all year, Hays High got a fourth-chance 3-pointer from sophomore Isaiah Nunnery and an and-one play by junior Brady Werth to tie the game at 38 with 2:18 to play.
Werth added a pair of free throws soon after to tie the game at 40 with 1:43 to go, the sort of situation Hays High has excelled in all season.
But this time, it was third seed Highland Park (23-1) that took control instead, when it scored the final eight points of the game to advance to Saturday’s 5A state title game against top seed Lansing (24-0).
“We knew that it was going to be this type of game because Hays makes it that type of game,” Highland Park coach Ken Darting said. “The biggest thing is they are tough — they are just flat tough. I think it was two fights. First half they beat us up and we didn’t respond well. The second half I think maybe we beat them up.”
The early punches went to second seed Hays High, which built a 9-3 lead and led 14-12 after a quarter. But by halftime the game was tied at 21 with neither team holding more than a two-point lead in the second quarter.
Highland Park was able to get a little separation in the third quarter, building as much as a five-point lead on two occasions, but a 3-pointer by Hays High senior Lane Clark in the final minute made it just 33-32 Scots heading to the fourth.
The greatest difference maker in the game proved to be Highland Park senior Jahmal McMurrary, who finished with 19 points on 8 of 17 shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers.
“McMurrary, what a player. He kind of took them on his shoulders and made some plays. When he didn’t make shots, he made passes,” Keltner said. “Both teams played extremely hard in a game that we felt like kind of got away from us.”
Hays High struggled to find its shot all night, missing many short jumpers and point-blank shots. Outside of Werth’s team-high 19 points on 7 of 15 shooting, the Indians didn’t find much production on offense. They shot 15 of 48 (31.3 percent) as a team and made only 4 of 19 3-point attempts.
Highland Park wasn’t a whole lot better, making 18 of 45 shots (40 percent) and 4 of 16 3-pointers. And according to Darting, it wasn’t necessarily bad shooting, but great defense that led to the low scoring output.
“To be honest, I’m not sure I saw any easy shots in that game. People were falling down, getting kicked, stepped on,” Darting said. “I don’t think either team had very many easy shots. They might have been open, but somebody is flying out at them and jumping in their face.”
While Highland Park will move on to play for the state title, Hays High will play Wichita-Heights (19-5) in Saturday’s third-place game. Tip is set for 2 p.m.
Heights is coming off a 72-71 overtime loss to Lansing on Friday.
“I’m glad we get to play again. Maybe we will get beat again tomorrow, but we get a chance to be together and play again as a team knowing it’s our last game together,” Keltner said. “It was a great atmosphere for the kids to be a part of (Friday). They will talk about this game when they are fat, old guys like me sitting around. There were some memories made here tonight.”
Should Hays High win on Saturday, it would match the 1996 team for the highest finish in school history since its 1944 state title.
Highland Park 48, Hays High 40?
Highland Park (23-1
)?Jahmal McMurrary 8-17 1-1 19, Jahlil Osby 4-7 0-0 10, Carr 3-9 2-2 8, Hunt 2-4 1-1 5, Clark 0-4 4-4 4, Kingcannon 1-2 0-0 2, White 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-45 8-8 48. ?
Hays High (23-1)
Brady Werth 7-15 5-6 19, Clark 2-10 0-0 5, Windholz 2-7 0-0 5, Nunnery 1-6 1-2 4, Riedel 2-3 0-0 4, Parker 1-5 0-0 3, Niernberger 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 15-48 6-8 40. ?
Highland Park 12 9 12 15 — 48
Hays High 14 7 11 8 — 40?
3-point goals — Highland Park 4-16 (McMurrary 2-7, Osby 2-5, Clark 0-3, White 0-1), Hays High 4-19 (Nunnery 1-1, Windholz 1-5, Clark 1-8, Parker 1-4, Werth 0-1).
Rebounds — Highland Park 31 (Carr 11), Hays High 29 (Werth 7). Turnovers — Highland Park 12, Hays High 10. Fouls — Highland Park 14, Hays High 12. Fouled out — none.