Hays High to play for TOC title By AUSTIN COLBERT
acolbert@dailynews.net

DODGE CITY — A battle. A war. A dogfight.

Each of those words were used to describe the Hays High School boys’ basketball team’s 42-36 win over Manhattan on Friday at United Wireless Arena in the semifinals of the Tournament of Champions, hosted by Dodge City High School.

“Hard fought. Both teams were scrapping for every penny, so to speak. I’m proud of our guys’ heart and battle,” Hays High coach Rick Keltner said. “I feel fortunate we were tied at the half because I have so much respect for Manhattan’s team and program. But I thought the second half was a tribute to both teams and how hard it was. I’m so proud of our guys for making plays.”

Hays High used a 19-point effort from senior guard Jordan Windholz and a stifling defense to overcome eight first-half turnovers and a night in which the Indians shot just 37.5 percent from the field and 14 of 25 from the free-throw line.

With the win, Hays High moves on to Saturday’s championship game, where Keltner will go for his first TOC title in what will be his fifth finals appearance in 29 years at the school. HHS won its only TOC title in 1955.

The Indians will play Wichita East, No. 2 in 6A, at 6 p.m. in Dodge City after the Aces beat Maize 52-48 on Friday.

“It’s a pretty cool thing to first beat Manhattan, which is a really good ball club, and come and make it to the finals. It’s huge,” Windholz said. “I think our team, everyone is a little bit of a playmaker. There is just a lot of magic happening on the floor and we all came together. It was an awesome thing.”

Hays High (11-0), No. 3 in Class 5A, had to overcome its lowest scoring output of the season to get the win. Brady Werth, a 6-foot-7 junior, was held to five points and five rebounds after posting 26 points and 12 rebounds in the TOC opener against Hutchinson.

Without much production from Werth, Hays High still found other players to step up. A key play in the first half came from sophomore guard Isaiah Nunnery, who intercepted a Manhattan pass and took it in for a layup in the final seconds of the second quarter. Nunnery’s basket sent the teams to the locker room tied at 17.

“I had a feeling he was going to pass so I just anticipated and got a hand on it and took it in for the layup,” said Nunnery, who finished with eight points. “I just do what I can to help the team. I just play whatever role I have and do what coach says.”

Both teams struggled to get anything going in the third quarter. Manhattan led 21-20 late in the quarter before Nunnery made another big play, this time a 3-pointer, which Windholz quickly followed with another 3 to give Hays High a 26-21 lead going into the fourth.

“I know it got us a lot of energy going into the fourth quarter. We went into the huddle right there and everyone was so pumped up,” Windholz said. “When nothing is falling for you that’s when you stick together as a team and play hard and have good composure.”

After going 1 of 7 from the free-throw line in the first half, Hays High was forced to finish the game from the foul line in the final quarter. A pair of Manhattan free throws made it 34-33 with 2:43 to play. The final eight points by Hays High were all scored at the foul line. Hays High’s largest lead came at 40-33 before an Alex Stitt 3-pointer by Manhattan made it 40-36 with less than a minute to play.

“They were really selling out trying to stop Brady. Brady was in a tag-team wrestling match, basically,” Keltner said. “It’s encouraging to me to once again have other guys pick up the slack when somebody else isn’t scoring.”

No player scored in double figures for Manhattan (7-3), with Payton Stephens’ nine points leading the way.

Hays High forced 20 Manhattan turnovers and held them to 38.9 percent shooting. Manhattan only had six free-throw attempts for the game, and made three.

“They did a better job executing against our defense than we did against their defense,” Manhattan coach Tim Brooks said. “They take up so much space in their zone. They are very active with their hands. We didn’t do a very good job of ball faking and attacking when guys got off balance. A little disappointing on our part but hopefully we learned from it.”

Manhattan will play Maize at 4 p.m. Saturday in the third-place game.