Ball fills void left by injured players
By CONOR NICHOLL
Junior Carson Konrade remains out for the Fort Hays State University men's basketball team because of a thigh injury. Junior forward Andrew Victoria is limited because of a knee problem that kept him sidelined for the first part of the year.
Without Konrade and Victoria, the Tigers have limited options off the bench and few scoring threats. However, the injuries have allowed guard Jason Ball, a fifth-year senior and Hays High School graduate, to see more playing time.
Last Saturday, Ball played 13 minutes and collected six points on 2-of-3 shooting from 3-point range. The Tigers rallied from 10 points down in the last two and a half minutes and collected a 76-70 overtime road victory against Emporia State University.
"He has done as well as he can do," coach Mark Johnson said in his weekly news conference Monday. "Jason, part of the reason he has gotten to play a little bit is we have got to throw someone out there that can give us a little bit more scoring."
Fort Hays stands at 9-3, 3-1 MIAA entering Thursday's matchup with rival Washburn University, ranked No. 8 in NCAA Division II at 8-2 overall, 1-1 MIAA. The women's contest starts at 5:30 p.m. followed by the men's game at 7:30 p.m.
Konrade, who had emerged in December after a slow start, was FHSU's first player off the bench. He is averaging 9.6 points per game and shooting 49 percent from the field, including 38 percent from 3-point range in 22.9 minutes a contest.
"Carson does a lot for us, but I thought Jason has done really well the last couple of games," senior guard Ben Congiusta said.
"Really well. He has brought a lot of energy off the bench. He has made shots, he has rebounded and he has done everything great for the team. He has been tremendous for us the last two games, really."
In a practice before the South Dakota School of Mines game on Dec. 29, Konrade took a knee to the thigh, an experience that Johnson said "happens 100 times" to people throughout life.
Most feel some pain or soreness for a short time before it goes away. It has lingered with Konrade. He played limited minutes against Mines and then hasn't seen the court since.
"He is really no better today than he was," Johnson said. I would say it would be uncertain to improbable, impossible him playing on Thursday. It's just not getting better. They have done some MRIs, X-rays and we will know something more in the next day or two, but he took a knee to the thigh in practice and it's obviously as bad as it can be."
The 6-foot-8, 230-pound Victoria is a solid offensive player. He didn't play until Dec. 5 and has 26 points in seven games. Victoria is 10 of 19 shooting this season, but has played just 49 minutes.
"I think Andrew can give us a little bit more scoring at the post," Johnson said. "Andrew's knee, I sometimes feel bad him even being out there. He is really fighting through it. He is having a tough time with mobility."
Without Konrade and with little production from Victoria, FHSU had four players go at least 37 minutes. Three collected 43 or 44 minutes.
Last Thursday, Ball played a season-high 18 minutes in a road loss to Northeastern (Okla.) State University and recorded five points.
Saturday's contest yielded his second-highest minutes played and tied his season-best for points.
"He is a little bit like Sean Dreiling last year," Johnson said of a guard who bided his time before playing well as a fifth-year player. "Jason is a capable player. He has just always been right on the bubble, and now he is getting his opportunity and being in the program long enough, he is confident enough to go out there, and play and he did a great job."
Ball has never scored in double figures in his Tiger career nor played more than 23 minutes. Still, he has always shot the ball well when he has played. Entering this season, he was 19 of 51 (37.3 percent) from long range in 46 career games. This year, Ball is 9 of 19 (47.4 percent) from 3-point range.
"Jason has the ability to make a shot, and that's why we are giving him a chance," Johnson said. "We are really struggling for guys who can put the ball in the hole for us."
Women look to rebound
In a matchup of top-10 teams, the No. 10 Tiger women's basketball team (10-2, 2-2 MIAA) will face off against Washburn (8-2, 2-0 MIAA) on Thursday. The Lady Blues stand at No. 6 nationally.
Fort Hays struggled offensively in a pair of road losses to Northeastern and Emporia State. Versus ESU, sophomore center Kate Lehman collected 25 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks. But the rest of the team combined for 29 points and Fort Hays lost 69-54.
"You hope that doesn't happen and when you have pretty good depth on your team like we do, you wouldn't think that would happen all at one time," coach Tony Hobson said in his weekly news conference Monday.
"But you would also like to see when you have a kid have a game like Kate Lehman did, you hate to waste it. I don't say it was wasted, but we certainly didn't have the outcome that we wanted."