State bound; Hays High outlasts Liberal
Published on -3/3/2013, 8:56 PM
By KLINT SPILLER
Hays High School junior point guard Kyler Niernberger remembers watching some of Hays High's state-qualifying basketball squads when he was little. He always thought someday he would make the same journey.
It was a rough road to get there. Hays High had to endure some pot holes along the way, such as a 6-15 season last year with no seniors, but the Indians reached their ultimate destination: the Class 5A state boys' basketball tournament in Topeka.
Hays High defeated Liberal 73-64 in the Class 5A sub-state championship on Saturday at the HHS gym, punching the Indians' tickets to state for the first time since 2003.
"I knew someday we would be up here, and now it is our time," said Niernberger, who was a first grader the last time the Indians made state.
Last year was a learning experience for Hays High's young club. This year, Hays High (14-7) is more seasoned.
Hays High had four players score in double figures against Liberal (7-14).
Senior forward Adam Deterding and junior guard Lane Clark scored 16 points each, and senior small forward Derek Bixenman and sophomore center Brady Werth added 15 and 12, respectively.
It was one of Deterding's best games of the season after returning to basketball after taking a season off.
"I think I kind of realized it was now or never more than anytime," Deterding said. "If anything, I wanted to go out with my best game possible here."
Liberal started the game in a lull, committing turnovers on its first four possessions. The Redskins converted just one field goal in the first six minutes of the half, allowing Hays High to take a 11-2 lead.
Then Liberal senior J.J. Lewis catalyzed the offense, scoring nine points in the next six minutes.
Hays High responded in the second quarter with a flurry of scores from Clark, Bixenman and Deterding, holding off Liberal's rally. The Indians went into the locker room with a 33-25 lead.
Liberal kept up the pressure in the third quarter, at one point narrowing Hays High's lead to 43-41, but the Indians responded to each of Liberal's rallies.
Hays High's playmakers eventually out lasted Liberal, as the Redskins faded down the stretch.
"I'm a KU fan," HHS coach Rick Keltner said. "Elijah Johnson steps up at Iowa State. Today, it was Ben McLemore. Who's going to be your Ben Mclemore? I don't mean in the talent level, but who is going to make plays?
"Today we had some kids step up and help us. I don't care who it is as long it has Hays on their shirt," he added.
Liberal got a big performance from Lewis, who scored 22 points. Liberal senior William Ross added 18 points, and junior Blake Stout added 12.
"I knew Liberal was going to play tough because it could have been their last game, which it was," Niernberger said.
"I knew they were going to bring it all out. We just came prepared. Coach did a good job of preparing us, and we played as team."