The psychological advantage was in Jaycee Dale’s mind from the beginning.
That’s just about all the junior on the Hays High School girls’ basketball team needed entering Tuesday night’s game against state-ranked Abilene.
“When I saw their size, I thought, ‘Yeah, I can do this,’ ” Dale said. “I just thought I was taller than everyone on the boards and just did it.”
Dale put up a magnificent performance Tuesday night, nearly reaching a career high in scoring while helping the Indians dismantle Abilene, 57-37, at the HHS gym.
Dale finished with 14 points, a season-high and just shy of her career best, and the Indians rolled right past the seventh-ranked team in Class 4A Division I in this week’s KBCA poll.
“I was having fun,” said Dale, who reached double figures for the second time this season.
But she wasn’t the only HHS player enjoying herself in the game that featured plenty of smiles to go around. Thanks to some hot outside shooting, the Indians rolled out to a 19-2 advantage after the first quarter and didn’t allow Abilene to score until two minutes remained in the period.
“I think she played really well at Liberal, and she played really well today,” said HHS interim coach Haley Wolf, who has filled in the past week for coach Kirk Maska. “She was a force down there. She had her way, and she played physical and finished around the basket. I think she had her best game of the year. She really played with some force today.”
Dale scored only two points in the first quarter as the Indians (11-6) made four 3-pointers — including two by sophomore Brooke Denning — en route to the comfortable lead.
“We’ve been doing a lot better lately with just relaxing and having confidence,” said Denning, who finished with 18 points and is averaging 17 per game in the last three contests. “We hadn’t been confident in our shots, but we have been lately.”
Dale scored four of the team’s 10 points in the second quarter as Hays High led 29-11 at the break.
“It helps when you make shots. I can’t tell you how many 3s we made, but we made a ton of them,” Wolf said. “It looks better when the ball’s going in. They’re a good team. Just watching them on film, they do a lot of things well. I was pleased with our effort today and pleased with our defense. I thought we had them scouted really well. They had a ton of trouble just getting into anything.”
The lead grew to 27 points twice in the third quarter before Hays High led 46-22 entering the final period.
“We did a pretty good job of guarding their good players, and we had a good idea of what they were going to do,” Denning said. “It was a good job by us defensively.”
Abilene tried to put a scare into the Indians, cutting the margin to 53-34 with 2:34 remaining.
But four straight points by Dale ended any threat.
“I thought we played with confidence,” Wolf said. “Even when we missed shots, we kept taking them. That’s something we’ve been preaching all year. I was proud of the way we played with confidence and energy and enthusiasm.”
Abilene junior Sydney Burton led the Cowgirls with 12 points, but seven came at the free throw line. She was the only Abilene player to score in double figures, and the Cowgirls scored 14 of their points on free throws.
“It was a good win for us, and we knew Abilene would be tough because they’re ranked pretty good in 4A,” Denning said. “It was a big win for us.”
Hays High will host Garden City for a WAC contest at 6 p.m. Friday.