Hays High at home against Great Bend
By KLINT SPILLER
Hays High School senior small forward Derek Bixenman said there's no better way to start sub-state play than against the school rival on his team's home court.
With a strong start and improved regular season, the Indians (12-7) clinched the No. 2 seed and home-court advantage through the Class 5A sub-state tournament.
They will face Great Bend (5-14) in the first round at 7 p.m. Thursday at the HHS gym.
Bixenman said he expects a strong turnout from Hays High's fans.
"Talking to my peers, they talk about how pumped they are, and they are not even playing," Bixenman said. "I think it is going to be a very good atmosphere."
Competing in sub-state bracket B, Hays High is the only team with a winning record and will have to win just two games to make it to state.
If Hays High defeats Great Bend, the Indians would play the winner of Maize South (8-12) and Liberal (6-13).
Hays High hasn't made state since 2003, but this season, the Indians are the favorite to escape sub-state. However, Hays High head coach Rick Keltner pointed out being the favorite doesn't win sub-state games.
"We just have to be better now," Keltner said. "We have to get a run going now. It's all about what you do now. We've got to play our best basketball."
The last time Great Bend and Hays High faced each other was Jan. 8 at Great Bend.
The Panthers ended Hays High's seven-game season-opening winning streak to start the season with a 48-40 upset.
Great Bend dominated the rebounding margin 48 to 34. The Indians also struggled to score, shooting 26.9 percent from the field.
"Great Bend has got some kids that will play hard," Keltner said. "We've just go to make sure we play better than we did last time and play a little more physical."
In a way, it is a postponed game. Hays High would have faced Great Bend last Friday at home, but a snowstorm forced the schools to cancel the game.
"It is kind of ironic how it worked out that we would play each other in sub-state," Keltner said.
Hays High has fallen into a cold streak.
The Indians started the season 9-1, but since, they've gone 3-6.
However, much of their woes have come on the road. During that nine-game stretch, Hays High played just three games at home.
The team's shooting percentage has dipped as well. Hays High is shooting 40.9 percent from the field and 26.1 percent from the 3-point line.
"We were tense (Jan. 8 at Great Bend)," Bixenman said. "We need to come out here on Thursday and relax and shoot the ball."
Great Bend didn't have a strong finish to the season either, losing seven straight.
Keltner said he'd like to break Hays High's state appearance drought this season, but he said it's important to not look ahead.
"I'd like to think we are due, but it all starts one game at a time," Keltner said. "It's all about getting on a run right now."