It was either going to be a moment of regression or a chance to keep the confidence rising for the Hays High girls basketball team.
Fresh off a championship in the Colby tournament, the Indians were in danger of losing track of Salina Central after a rough second quarter put Hays High in a 13-point halftime hole.
“I felt like in the second quarter we kind of crawled back into our shell a little bit,” Hays High coach Alex Hutchins said. “We told them they had a choice at halftime. You had a choice to kind of pack your bags and go home or you could keep attacking and do what we’re trying to do.”
The Indians rose to the occasion and continued their surge, using a dominant third quarter and a strong finish to notch a 73-65 victory on Friday night at Hays High.
Hays High (8-3) came storming out of the break with a 20-2 run to take a 46-41 lead.
“We knew this was a beatable team and we knew that we had the talent to do it,” Hays senior Savannah Schneider said. “Right when we came out (of halftime) we needed to score points because in other games we struggled in the third quarter and we let up. We knew what we needed to do to win.”
Hays took a three-point lead into the fourth after outscoring the Mustangs 22-6 in the third frame. Central (7-4) grabbed a one-point lead a minute into the fourth but Mattie Hutchison answered with a 3-pointer for Hays High. The game was tied at 53 before Hays High's Tasiah Nunnery kickstarted a 7-0 run with a 3-point play.
Schneider had a career night with a game-high 26 points, including a key bucket with 1:40 left to push the lead back to six before the Indians locked it up with free throws.
“She’s someone that regularly scores two key baskets in a row without us calling a single play for her,” Hutchins said of Schneider. “A lot of what she gets is because she forces turnovers on defense. It doesn’t get any easier to coach someone than when you have someone who goes and creates offense because of their defense. Savannah does that for us every night."
The Indians’ press helped fuel the turnaround and Hays found success driving to the bucket.
“We knew that they were tall and that they could block, so we couldn’t get swatted all the time,” Schneider said. “We knew that driving would create fouls and make openings in other places. It was a drive and dish type of offense.”
“In the first half, they were guarding us really tight, kind of hugging us and overplaying us and being physical,” Hutchins said. “The best way to fight that pressure is to back cut or drive past them. … I thought all of the girls drove harder than I’ve seen them drive in the second half. They put the pressure on the defense to stop them.”
Hays High extended its winning streak to five, claiming seven of their last eight games.
"Any time you start to string wins together, the girls start to believe in what they’re doing and believe in each other," Hutchins said. “That’s why that second half was such a big deal for us, because I do feel like coming off that tournament, having the rough first half that we did, it was kind of an opportunity for us to keep building on what we’ve done, or to regress.
“The girls kept building and they kept that confidence up. They played for each other and played together.”
Aubrie Kierscht led Central with 18 points while Kadyn Cobb and Hampton Williams added 16 and 14, respectively. The Mustangs were without leading scorer Selah Merkle, who was out with an injury.
"That’s a scary team, and they’re going to be even scarier next year," Hutchins said of the Mustangs. "They were without their leading scorer tonight, a senior, and everyone else stepped up."
Schneider was joined in double figures by Jaycee Dale (15) and Brooke Denning (10).
The Indians will play at Salina South on Tuesday.