A long layoff between games wasn’t an ideal situation for the Hays High School girls’ basketball team.
What made the Indians’ game against Salina Central on Tuesday night at the HHS gym even more difficult was that the Mustangs were a quality opponent.
Both of those spelled doom for the Indians in a 60-55 loss, snapping a six-game winning streak in an atypical performance by Hays High.
“It was not at all,” HHS coach Kirk Maska said about the performance Tuesday. “We stood around so much, and our defense wasn’t there. It just seemed like we were tired. It was not a good sign. Maybe we didn’t work them hard enough over the break, but they are a good team and have good players.”
Salina Central (10-3) was ranked No. 6 in Class 5A in this week’s KBCA poll, while the Indians were at No. 6 in Class 4A Division I but hadn’t played since Jan. 12 at Garden City.
The first half produced what was expected from two of the top teams in the state.
The Mustangs (10-3) led 16-14 at the end of the first quarter before Hays High (8-2) knotted things up 29-29 at halftime.
“I knew it was going to be very tough,” said HHS junior Savannah Schneider, who had 13 of her 21 points in the first half. “I knew that they were a very solid team. I knew they were good this year and have been previous years. I was really trying to get us prepared for this.”
The two teams traded baskets in the third quarter before Hays High trailed 43-41 entering the final period.
The lead grew to four before sophomore Tasiah Nunnery hit a 3-pointer, followed by two free throws to give HHS a 46-45 lead with 6:37 remaining. She’d finish with 10 points.
But the Mustangs went on an 8-0 run in a span of 1:09 to move ahead, 53-46. Senior Myah Ward was the spark for Salina Central, hitting a pair of 3-pointers in the spurt.
“That was big because we were kind of going back and forth with them the whole second half,” said Salina Central senior Elisa Backes. “Finally getting that cushion, we could relax and still be aggressive.”
Backes, a Nebraska-Kearney commit, scored 18 points and accounted for the other two points in the run that sealed the victory.
“They had beaten Liberal, and we had just played Liberal last Saturday and lost in a really close game,” she said. “We knew we would have to be tough and just stay positive the whole time. I think we really needed this win after the loss in the SIT.”
Hays High would come as close as four points after a putback by Schneider, but another 3 by Ward pushed the lead back to seven at 56-49 with 3:53 to go. Ward finished with 14 points, including nine in the fourth quarter.
The Indians would come no closer than five points the rest of the way.
“It was tough because when they are on, they’re on,” Schneider said. “It’s just really hard to bounce back. They went on that long run.”
It was the first loss for Hays High since the title game of the Hays City Shootout in early December.
“I think that’s what bothered me most tonight is it seemed we got frustrated and did some uncharacteristic things that we haven’t been doing,” Maska said. “Maybe we took a step back today, but we’ll get it figure out. They are good girls, and they know what they are capable of doing. We’ll bounce back quick.”
Tuesday’s game was the start of a stretch of four games in five days for the Indians, who will play Wichita Northwest in the first round of the McPherson tourney Thursday.
“We’re the 2 seed, but everybody in the tournament is good,” Maska said. “Wichita Northwest is 5-5 but have three overtime losses. So they could be 8-2 right there with us. We’ve got our hands full, and we’d like to move to the winners’ bracket and see what that’s all about. I think that’s where we belong. Hopefully we get it figured out in 24 hours and move on.”