A stretch of games against state-ranked competition can be a grueling test.
On Tuesday night at the HHS gym, the Hays High School boys’ basketball team found itself facing another quality opponent for the fourth game in a row in the form of Salina Central.
The outcome was similar to the last three games, as the Indians dropped a 62-48 decision to the Mustangs.
“Every great Disney movie we’ve seen starts off with some challenges,” said HHS coach Rick Keltner. “We’ve kind of played Goliath the last three games, and we have to try to be David.”
Hays High (8-5) was coming off a fourth-place finish at the Dodge City Tournament of Champions, a stretch that saw the Indians beat Class 6A Manhattan before losing to Wichita Heights — No. 3 in 5A in this week’s KBCA poll — and Bishop Miege — No. 1 in 4A Division I.
Salina Central, No. 9 in 5A, was just the latest state-ranked team in a span of a few days.
“I told them in the locker room, me included, that we have to keep working and get better,” Keltner said. “We’re all competitive and it bothers our egos and we look for someone to snap at when things don’t go well. But we have to keep loving the game and loving each other and playing hard and good things can happen.”
Hays High started strong, just like it did each of its last four games. That resulted in a 15-14 lead for the Indians after the first quarter.
But once again, a rough second quarter proved costly. The Mustangs (10-3) outscored the Indians by 12 in the quarter to lead 33-22 at halftime.
The margin grew to 43-22 with 6:01 left in the third quarter when Salina Central senior Ethan Speer capped a 10-0 run to start the quarter. Speer finished with a game-high 17 points.
HHS senior Kyler Koenke stopped the run with a basket off the glass before junior Tradgon McCrae hit a 3-pointer, making it 43-27.
But Hays High eventually would trail 48-35 entering the fourth quarter.
“I have to give them credit: They’re a state-ranked 5A team,” Keltner said about the Mustangs. “We’ve kind of played Murders Row. We played and beat a good Manhattan team and then traveled back and played (Wichita) Heights, a 5A state-ranked team. Then we played a great team, probably the best team in the tournament in Miege. … We needed some time to polish it. We just haven’t had time. We haven’t run much halfcourt offense this year because we’ve been shooting so quick. Then when you play against teams that are good defensively and don’t let you shoot, you have to be better than we were in halfcourt offense and take better shots than we did. But we’re still going to keep attacking, and we’ll get better. I’m proud of the way they battled tonight.”
Salina Central scored the first five points of the fourth quarter before a trey by senior Nick Fisher.
But Hays High would come no closer than 14 points late after a 3-pointer by sophomore Dylan Ruder, who finished with eight points.
McCrae led HHS with 13 points, and senior Cole Murphy added 12, including nine in the first half.
Junior Mark Grammer finished with 16 points for the Mustangs, who also got 11 from junior Harper Williams.
Hays High won’t play again until next Tuesday when they host Salina South.