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Hays High falls; Dodge City clinches WAC

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

DODGE CITY -- The Dodge City High School boys' basketball team ended its senior night on a picture-perfect note. Four years playing at the DCHS Field House, four Western Athletic Conference titles.

The Red Demons (12-7, 6-1 WAC) clinched the sole share of the league title with a 53-46 win against Hays High on Tuesday at the DCHS Field House.

"It's special for (the players)," said Dodge City head coach Dennis Hamilton, who is in his 26th year there. "I've been involved in a few as a coach. When you're a dinosaur, you're going to get lucky once and a while, but I think it's pretty special for our kids to be able to do it four years in a row. "

It was a balanced game with one exception: one team made its shots while the other didn't.

The Red Demons made 56.8 percent of its shots, including 6 of 10 from 3-point range, while Hays High finished 28.9 percent from the field and 20 percent (5 of 25) from beyond the arc.

"It's kind of that way in basketball," said Hays High head coach Rick Keltner. "Your playmakers have to beat their playmakers, and our playmakers were having trouble making shots."

It was a crushing loss for Hays High (12-7, 4-3 WAC), whose hopes of a share of the league title were squelched Tuesday.

However, Keltner put the loss in perspective after the game, pointing out that last year Hays High was just 6-15.

"This time last year, we were the youngest 5A team in the state of Kansas that I'm aware of, and we weren't in the conversation for a league title," Keltner said. "This year, a year later, we've already doubled the win total from last year and were talking about winning a league championship the last week."

Junior guard Lane Clark provided Hays High's top performance. He scored 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting and tied for the team lead with four rebounds.

Sophomore center Brady Werth was contained to just seven points on 3-of-7 shooting and three rebounds, but he did block three shots.

Senior guard Nick Petz contributed eight points on 3-of-8 shooting, and senior small forward Derek Bixenman added four points off two fast breaks but finished 2-of-10 shooting.

"We can't look in the mirror and start thinking we aren't playmakers, but it's the time of the year where they have to start making plays," Keltner said. "I'm confident they will."

Dodge City senior Zach Norton led his squad in scoring with 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Junior Jace Larson added 12.

The Red Demons started the game on fire, jumping out to a 17-3 lead on 7-of-12 shooting.

"We got off to one tremendous start," Hamilton said. "Dose that happen? Not all the time, but I think our kids were pretty hyped."

Hays High would respond in short spurts, but each time, Dodge City answered. The Red Demons led by 20 at one point in the third quarter and as much as 22 in the fourth quarter.

Outside of the ball going in the hoop, Hays High played a solid game. Each team finished with 26 rebounds and 14 turnovers.

"I thought our guys played hard," Keltner said. "I told them in the locker room I'm proud of the effort."

Hays High will conclude its regular season with a rematch against rival Great Bend on Friday at the HHS gym.

The last time the two teams faced, Great Bend ruined the Indians' 7-0 start by upsetting Hays High 48-40 at Great Bend.

Unlike the first match up, Hays High is on a cold stretch, dropping three of its past five games, but so is Great Bend (5-14, 2-5 WAC). The Panthers have lost seven straight.

"The mission for us is not to get frustrated," Keltner said.

Though his team won big Tuesday, Hamilton said he expects Hays High to make a run at sub-state.

"I think they are as athletic as anybody in the conference," he said.