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HHS boys lose close

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

In a game that was supposed to pit the top two teams in its respective Class 5A sub-state, the Hays High School boys' basketball team seemed to have the deck stacked against it pretty fast.

Right from the start, Hays High was without its starting point guard, junior Kyler Niernberger, who was out with the flu. In the second quarter, backup point guard and the squad's second leading scorer, junior Jordan Windholz, collapsed to the floor with a knee injury, forcing freshman guard Isaiah Nunnery to handle the ball more than usual and senior small forward Derek Bixenman to dribble the ball up the court at times. Combine that with foul trouble to Hays High's top player, sophomore center Brady Werth, and it made it difficult to overtake Salina Central.

Nevertheless, it was still a close one as Hays High fell 45-40 on Tuesday at the HHS gym.

"What's kind of magnificent about that, when people say we can't catch a break, was we still had a chance to win the game," said Hays High head coach Rick Keltner.

"In sports -- if you think you are getting some tough calls, you are getting some kids in foul trouble or you have some kids hurt -- if you band together, you still have a chance to do something special."

Both teams now are tied at 10-5, but Central has the head-to-head advantage on the Indians for sub-state seeding with five games left in the regular season.

"I feel like we could have beat them," said junior forward Kade Parker. "We just needed to knock down more shots. Both teams played hard."

Hays High senior guard Lane Clark attempted to pick up the slack, scoring a team-high 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, and Parker provided valuable minutes, scoring eight points, grabbing nine rebounds and drawing a charge late in the first quarter to help give his team a spark.

"Kade is a competitor," Keltner said. "He is a kid that doesn't get rattled. He just goes out and plays."

Hays High's reserves stepped up in the absence of their stars, but their absence was noticed.

For one, the Indians finished with 17 turnovers, four above their season average.

Also, Central applied a pressure defense that was tough to break without what Keltner considered was Hays High's top two penetrators -- Niernberger and Windholz.

"One of the ways to attack a pressure is to go at it, and I just lost my best two penetrators and we are trying to attack a pressure defense," Keltner said.

Despite all of that, Hays High managed to lead 35-34 with 5:30 remaining in the game, but Central outscored the Indians 11-5 down the stretch.

Central made 6 of 9 free throws in the final four minutes to seal it, while Hays High struggled to find any sort of opening in Central's defense.

"We just couldn't finally get over the mark," Parker said.

Windholz was injured with 2:43 remaining in the second quarter. He was penetrating when he suddenly collapsed. Keltner said it possibly could be an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

Nunnery finished 2 of 4 for four points and grabbed three rebounds in his absence.

"Isaiah is going to be a really good player," Keltner said. "But this time last year, he was playing middle school basketball. It's a different speed. He's going to be fine. I thought he got some great experience tonight and made some nice plays."

Werth finished 3 of 11 for seven points and five rebounds, but he got in foul trouble early, saw limited action and finished the game with four fouls.

Keltner believed the referees made it difficult for Werth to play.

"I haven't seen these officials before," he said. "I'm sure they are good officials, but I truly felt like our big kid was not allowed to play. That's just something we have to be smarter and adjust and as a coach adjust."

Central had two players reach double figures.

Senior forward Mark Vaughn scored 13 points, and junior Treyton Hines posted 10 points.

The Indians next play Friday at the HHS gym against Liberal.