The referee’s whistle ended the play, resulting in a jump ball.
Peyton Kieffer had forced the jump ball, and in the process, ended up a virtual headlock.
“Typical rivalry,” the Hays High School senior said about the play.
In the end, it was Kieffer who provided the finishing moves and made the Panthers submit as the Hays High boys rallied for a 66-60 victory over rival Great Bend in Western Athletic Conference play Tuesday night at the HHS gym.
“It’s really tough, probably the most physical game we’ll play all year — and at their place too,” Kieffer said. “They are a pretty tough team, and they have some shooters out there as well. It’s tough to guard them.”
Kieffer provided the setup to the finishing blow with a spectacular fourth quarter shooting display that brought the Indians from the brink of submission after Hays High trailed by 10 early in the period.
The 6-foot-1 senior rallied the Indians, hitting four straight 3-pointers to bring Hays High (6-2, 2-0) back.
“These guys are really good kids, and they have good hearts,” said HHS coach Rick Keltner. “You can miss shots and make them, but it’s about how big of hearts the kids have. Sports are fun because you get to talk about things like that and see them battle through adversity. Both teams battled today, and I’m just thankful our kids made some plays.”
The Indians started hot en route to a 17-11 lead after the first quarter before Great Bend (1-6, 0-2) trimmed the margin to 32-31 at halftime.
Then with Hays High leading 40-34, Great Bend sophomore Sam Ryan scored all seven of his points on a 14-0 run to end the quarter, giving the Panthers a 48-40 lead entering the final period.
“Just keep our cool and try to finish hard,” Kieffer said about the message Keltner gave the team. “Don’t let them take advantage of it.”
It was Kieffer who took advantage of the situation. With Great Bend scoring the first bucket of the fourth quarter to push the lead to 50-40, Kieffer hit a long-range 3-pointer from the top of the key to pull Hays High within seven.
“It was huge. The momentum totally shifted,” Kieffer said. “All of us felt it, and the crowd felt it. The gym was rockin’ ”
Junior Tradgon McCrae, who was whistled for his fourth foul after being assessed a technical in the second quarter, followed with a layup before Kieffer struck again from the left corner.
Just seconds later, Kieffer hit his third in a row to give Hays High a 51-50 lead with 6:07 remaining.
After the Panthers retook the lead, Kieffer hit again from well beyond the 3-point line, making it 54-52 with 5:22 to play.
“It was one of those days,” said Kieffer, who scored 15 of his game-high 21 points in the final quarter. “The crowd was into it, and the guys were getting me the ball. They were giving me the green light, and I just went with it.”
With the score tied at 60, senior Ethan Nunnery made one of two free throws, then followed with an offensive putback, giving Hays High a 63-60 advantage with 36 seconds remaining.
“It’s a dog fight,” Keltner said. “Both teams just play so hard when we get together. Both teams had kids make plays. I was very proud of our guys and their perseverance. I thought our body language was bad in the first half when things weren’t going our way, and even in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, one of our goals was to have good body language no matter what happens. They just made plays and played with passion and quit thinking about anything but making a play for the team.”
Hays High would finish the game by scoring the final six points of the contest.
Kieffer’s 21 points paced four Indians in double figures, and it was the first time he had made four 3-pointers in a row since his freshman season.
Nunnery finished with 12 points, and senior Cole Murphy and McCrae each had 11.
Great Bend was led by Blake Penka’s 10 points as the Panthers were outscored 26-12 in the final eight minutes.
“It’s just so much fun to watch kids. Both teams had kids make plays,” Keltner said. “It was just a battle all the way through the end. I’m thankful for the guys and their hard work. They just have to get better on the things we can correct.”