Playing in its first Hays City Shootout title game since 2006, the Hays High School girls’ basketball team went up against a program that has grown used to winning through the years.

Going up against Class 5A No. 1 ranked St. Thomas Aquinas, the two-time defending Class 5A champion, the Indians were outsized by a significant margin. Add to that the Saints’ hot start, and it spelled trouble for the Indians’ rare trip to the title round.

St. Thomas Aquinas began the game on an 11-2 run and never looked back as they defeated the Indians to win the tournament with a 63-36 victory at the HHS gym.

After scoring 43 and 36 points in their first two games, the Saints were clicking on all cylinders in the championship game. St. Thomas Aquinas’ hot start included three 3-pointers from Alayna Townsell during the run. The Indians seemed to struggle with the size of the Saints, who start three players upwards of six feet. Hays High managed only seven points in the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Saints had no trouble at all offensively, shooting 9 of 11 from the field and 4 of 4 from 3-point range to begin the game.

After settling in a bit, the Indians were able to double their first-quarter point total in the second, but St. Thomas Aquinas went on an 8-3 run to begin the quarter. Hays High, though, managed to make up some ground, going on an 11-point run to end the quarter, while holding the Saints to seven, but they still faced a 37-21 deficit.

A Brooke Denning 3-pointer to start the third quarter would be the only points the Indians would get for most of the quarter, as the Saints answered with a 3-pointer of their own which started an 18-0 run. In that span, Hays High was 0 of 8 from the field. The Indians closed the quarter with five straight points, but still trailed by 26 at the end of the third.

Denning led all Indians with 13 points. Townsell finished with 22 for the Saints.

“Their length bothered us quite a bit.” Indian coach Kirk Maska said. “It bothered us more than I thought it would and they didn’t shoot like they were capable of the first two nights, so I thought we would be able to pack it in and force them to shoot from outside, but then they hit their first four three-pointers, so we tried to go back to what we do best, but by then we were already in a hole and it was just impossible to dig ourselves out, especially when we’re playing one of, if not the best team in the state of Kansas.”

It’s an experience Maska hopes will pay off later in Hays High’s slate — especially in the Western Athletic Conference and at the always tough McPherson Invitational mid-season.

“They’re strong, they’re quick and they’re taller than us and you have to adjust your game a little bit when you play a team like that and I think the girls started to realize that as the game progressed, you know we’ve got to learn to take the ten-foot jumper instead of trying to drive it in against girls who are 6’2” and get our shot blocked,” Maska said.

“There’ll be some lessons learned, but overall, it was a great weekend and there were a lot of positives for us.”

Hays High is off until Dec. 12 when the Indians travel to Junction City.