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Game looms large for HHS

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

Hays High School junior guard Lane Clark knows how playing at home benefits his squad more than most.

Clark cited Hays High's 54-53 overtime win against Newton in the semifinals of the Hays City Shoot-Out as an example.

The Indians trailed Newton 23-21 at halftime, 36-30 after three quarters and by 10 in the fourth quarter, but invigorated by the crowd, Clark said his squad was able to put together a late flurry -- 14 points in the final three minutes. Then on an inbounds play with 1.88 seconds to go, Clark received a pass, attempted a 3-pointer from far beyond NBA range and drained it to send the game to overtime and the eventual win.

"They were loud the entire time," Clark said. "I felt like that helped us through the overtime. ...They supported us all the way through, even when we were down."

"Our crowd always helps us," Clark added. "We like playing on our home court. ... It's our home. We are going to fight a little bit harder for it."

That's why Tuesday's game against Salina Central (9-5) could be important. The tip off will follow the girls' game, which starts at 6 p.m. at the HHS gym.

KSHSAA implemented a rule change where the higher seeds in Class 5A and 6A sub-state tournaments automatically get home games throughout the tournament.

Hays High (10-4) is the front runner for the top seed in its Class 5A sub-state tournament, and Salina Central is second in the sub-state standings.

"We've learned you have to play good wherever you play, so our goal is to try to play good basketball, but I'm not going to lie to you," said Hays High head coach Rick Keltner. "It would be nice to be at home."

Though Tuesday's game pits the top-two sub-state teams against one another, it doesn't necessarily affect home-court advantage at sub-state in late February.

For one, the eight-team sub-state tournaments in 5A and 6A are broken into two smaller four-team sub-state tournaments. So if Hays High and Salina Central remain as the top two teams in the sub-state, they would each get home-court advantage in their respective subsections of the sub-state tournament.

Also, Hays High and Salina Central have sizable leads on the rest of the sub-state field. None of the other teams are even above .500.

Maize South has the third-best record in the sub-state with a 6-8 record. The rest of the teams are between 5-9 and 4-11.

As far as 5A boys' sub-states go, Hays High's and Salina Central's sub-state has the weakest field, at least when looking at the KBCA state rankings.

The sub-state has no ranked teams, and only Hays High has been ranked this season, which lasted a week at No. 9.

"It's definitely a sub-state that you look at and think we can take our team to the state tournament if we take care of business," said Salina Central head coach Doug Finch.

Keltner said Central has a balanced squad.

Six-foot, five-inch forward Justin Bengston (7.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game) leads the Mustangs' front court, and Mark Vaughn (9.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game) is a strong overall player, who led his squad in scoring and rebounding Friday at the Central High gym against Newton with 12 apiece.

Central guard Max Kuhn (8.1 points per game) is a capable shooter, shooting 38.2 percent from beyond the arc. Kuhn's also capable of big shots, making a 3-pointer with 12 seconds remaining to lift his squad past Newton 43-42.

"They've got some good players," Keltner said. "I think it is one of those games where both teams have strengths and some areas that they have to work on. We just have to try to do what we do well."

Hays High just got out of three-game losing rut with a win Tuesday at Salina South. The Indians played well in the contest, but missed many close shots.

"Our last game against South, we missed nine layups," Keltner said. "I think that's encouraging. We've got a chance to be pretty good, because I think we will start making those. The kids are doing some good things."

Hays High 6-foot-6 sophomore center Brady Werth is the Indians' top player. He leads the team with 16.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game.

Junior point guard Jordan Windholz provides a lift to the squad off the bench with 7.6 points per game.

Finch said he believes the Mustangs' tough schedule should prepare them for Werth, but they'll have to be aware of him.

"In our league, we are used to going up against 6-5, 6-6, 6-7 kids all the time," Finch said. "Brady is very good sophomore post player, and you have to pay attention to him. ... He poses a real threat to any defense that sees him."

Keltner said he expects a difficult contest.

"It's a non-league game, but it's a game against a good team," Keltner said. "... I know they've got a good team. They've got a great coach. So I know we will have to be ready to play, and we look forward to playing them."