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Hays High boys win physical battle with Liberal

By NICK McQUEEN

nmcqueen@dailynews.net

In Tuesday's 45-40 loss to Salina Central, the Hays High School boys' basketball team attempted just three free throws, compared to the Mustangs' 19.

Prior to Friday's Western Athletic Conference game against Liberal at the HHS gym, Indian coach Rick Keltner worked on getting his guys to take it harder to the bucket.

The practice paid off as Hays High was nearly flawless at the foul line in a hard-fought 60-46 win against the Redskins. The Indians moved to 11-5 overall and 3-2 in WAC play, while Liberal dropped to 5-12, 1-4.

"Both teams played really hard, and we expected it," Keltner said of Friday's physical battle. "I showed our guys a little bit of film of them playing against Great Bend, and they came into Great Bend's gym and just got on them.

"They really have improved ,and I have a lot of respect for their team and their coach."

Hays High, despite trailing 11-2 out of the gate, managed to regroup, become more aggressive and get to the foul line. The Indians finished the game 29 of 35 at the stripe in a contest where 55 fouls were called and the teams combined to shoot 70 free throws.

"We played on this court and shot three free throws, and our opponent shot 19 in our last game," Keltner said. "There are two reasons why that could happen. One is we're not getting any calls, which is a popular way to look at it. The other is we're going to the basket soft and not being very tough."

During the loss to Central, Keltner said his club had a lot of kids going up and fading away from the bucket. That wasn't the case Friday.

"Tonight, we didn't have anyone doing that,"  Keltner said. "We had guys going to the rim.

"If you're going to the basket, you're going to get fouled if you go up strong," Keltner added. "We improved on that tonight."

Junior guard Lane Clark especially benefitted from the calls. Clark was all over the place all night, hitting 4 of 9 from the floor and 10 of 12 at the free throw line to score a team-high 20 points. His first of two 3-pointers came as Hays High rallied from the early deficit. The 3 cut the lead to 19-17, and a pair of free throws a minute later by sophomore center Brady Werth gave Hays High its first lead. The Indians led 22-20 at intermission.

"Lane had a great game. He's a great kid," Keltner said. "He has to be more hungry for himself. He's kind of a guy that's terminally unselfish and will try to pass it to people.

"I'm glad he's looking for shots, because he needs to do that to help us out," Keltner added.

Liberal's athleticism took its toll on the Indians early. The mixture of senior J.J. Lewis, junior Blake Stout and senior William Ross was hot early, but really cooled in the third quarter.

Hays High, fueled by Clark's six third-quarter points, outscored Liberal 20-8 after the break to take control of the game.

The Redskins did give Werth, Hays High's 6-foot-6 center, fits all night, swallowing him up on nearly every possession.

"It was (a rough game) physically," Keltner said. "Brady missed some shots he will normally make. He's learning how it is when people know who you are.

"You get gang-tackled and worked over," Keltner added. "He'll learn and continue to get better."

Despite so much attention, Werth still managed to score 11 points, seven coming on nine attempts from the foul line. He was 2 of 6 from the field.

While Liberal had the same amount of free-throw attempts for the game, the Redkins made just 19. Sixteen of Liberal's attempts came in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach.

Lewis, Stout and Ross scored 13, 11 and 10 points, respectively, to lead Liberal, while senior Adam Deterding added nine points for the Indians. Nine different Indians scored in the win.

Hays High now hits the road for three straight, beginning with Tuesday's non-league game against Abilene.