Rough first day for Hays High girls
By KLINT SPILLER
McPHERSON -- Thursday was a rematch of last season's Mid-America Classic 52-42 championship game in names only.
Last season's finalists met again -- this time in the first round of the Mid-America Classic on Thursday in McPherson, but it wasn't much of a contest. McPherson (9-2), ranked No. 3 in Class 4A and the defending tournament champion, pummeled last season's runner-up Hays High (5-6) and cruised to a 40-point victory.
"I think our mentality was not where it was supposed to be," said Hays High senior point guard Janae Gagnon. "We came in thinking it was going to be a tough game, and we definitely showed it in the first and second quarters."
The 68-28 final score was ugly, but it could have been worse if Hays High didn't play such a strong third quarter, outscoring the Bullpups 17-8. McPherson led 42-7 at halftime and only managed to extend its lead by five points in the second half.
It still ranks as the worst blowout Hays High has suffered in nearly three years.
Hays High lost 67-27 on March 4, 2010, in the first round of the Class 5A sub-state tournament, and ironically, that loss also was at the hands of basketball powerhouse McPherson.
"McPherson is a really good ball club, but I don't think they should have beat us by 40 points," Gagnon said. "Maska even said that in the locker room, but there's nothing we can do."
Hays High couldn't get anything going in the first half, making 3 of 16 shots and surrendering 16 turnovers. Meanwhile, McPherson obliterated Hays High's 1-3-1 zone defense, making 17 of 28.
The Indians ran the zone partly to defend the reigning Gatorade Player of the Year, senior forward Katelyn Loecker, who committed to play at Oklahoma State University next year, but McPherson's guards got loose, made some 3-pointers and loosened up the zone for Loecker.
McPherson head coach Chris Strathman said his team has grown accustomed to team's trying to shut down Loecker.
"It's either zone to try to slow her down, or it's man and they bring somebody to double," Strathman said. "It's one or the other. Our kids can shoot the ball from the perimeter, but they also know we need to get her touches. When she gets touches, she draws a ton of attention, and then their shots are easier."
Between Hays High's struggles and McPherson's hot shooting, it resulted in a rough half for the Indians.
"It was maybe the ugliest half of basketball I had seen in four years," said Hays High head coach Kirk Maska. "We have just got to forget it and get ready for tomorrow."
Loecker led her squad with 17 points and three blocks and tied for the team-high with six rebounds. McPherson junior guard Abby Pederson added 14 points.
Gagnon and senior Emily Braun led Hays High with nine points apiece, and Braun also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.
Hays High's usual top player, senior forward Katelyn Schumacher, struggled in the opening round. Schumacher, who averages 12.6 points per game and 45.6 percent shooting, finished 1 of 10 for two points against McPherson.
"I know she probably got a little bit frustrated," Maska said. "You have to be a little more creative when you're going up against 6 foot and 6-foot-1 girls. You've got to fake and do some things. ... Katelyn is tough. Katelyn is good. She'll bounce back and have a big night tomorrow."
Whatever hung over Hays High in the first half, the Indians shed it in the second half.
The Indians scored more in the first two minutes of the third quarter than it did in the entire first half, going on an 8-1 run.
Hays High switched to a man-to-man defense, and it gave McPherson fits in the third quarter, containing them to 2-of-8 shooting.
Offensively, the Indians got much more aggressive with the ball, attacking the basket over and over. Eight of the Indians' 17 third-quarter points came when Hays High players drove to the basket from the perimeter.
Gagnon said she hopes that aggressiveness will carry over into Hays High's consolation semifinal game at 4:30 p.m. today against Dodge City (2-7).
Hays High has faced Dodge City once already. The Indians overcame a 10-point deficit against the Red Demons on Jan. 15 at the HHS gym and won 44-42 on a last-second shot by Schumacher.
"Maska just said we needed to step up (against McPherson), and he was right," Gagnon said. "Since we are mostly a team of seniors, I feel like it's our time now. Our record is 5-6, so I feel like we need to pick it up. I think our mentality shifted, and we wanted to score more."