McPHERSON — Even with a 12-point lead in the first half against Hays High School on Friday night in the semifinals of the Class 4A Division I sub-state at the Roundhouse, Buhler High School boys’ basketball coach Ryan Swanson knew his club’s lead wasn’t safe.
Not with the style of play the Crusaders’ opponent put up this season.
A high-flying, fast-paced, live-and-die by the 3-pointer team, Hays High put up the most points the program has in decades.
The Buhler coach wasn’t even disappointed with the fact his team gave up said 12-point lead and only led by two at intermission. All was even more well by the end of the fourth quarter, as the Crusaders picked up a 57-52 victory to move into Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. championship game.
“We didn’t get too excited (about the big second-quarter lead),” Swanson said. “We don’t like giving up a 12-point lead, but we knew it was going to be a game of runs.”
And that it was.
Hays High, after trailing 19-9 after the first quarter and 23-11 at the 7:02 mark of the second, made a furious rally. It was capped when junior Tradgon McCrae buried a long 3 at the halftime buzzer to make it 28-26 Buhler heading to the intermission.
“I’m really proud of these guys,” said HHS coach Rick Keltner, whose team’s loss ends his 33rd year with the program. “I was told we probably wouldn’t be that good, but I really enjoyed this group.”
The Buhler coach knew Hays High wasn’t just going to lay down. They rallied without one of their leaders scoring the ball in senior Cole Murphy. The sharpshooter who averaged five points a game a year ago entered Friday with 81 3-pointers made. Buhler contained him to just one from long range in scoring five points for the game.
“That was a tough shot, too,“ Keltner said. “They chased him around pretty good and made him work for it.”
For Buhler, the plan was to make Murphy put it on the floor, rather than let the senior spot up and shoot. Without Murphy being a big scoring factor, that opened the door for McCrae to put in a game-high 19 points. Senior Peyton Kieffer eventually gave Hays High its first lead wit a 3 from the corner at the 6:40 mark of the third quarter.
“Usually teams that shoot that many 3s are selfish,” Swanson said. “They are extremely unselfish and it makes them really hard to guard.”
The lead changed five more times the rest of the way.
“(Coach Keltner) is going to keep them in the game,” Swanson said of Hays High. “They did a really good job of taking (6-foot-8 senior Grant) Owens away from us. Their changing defenses really kept us off guard after that first quarter.”
Buhler, though, was able to take the lead for good at the 3:27 mark of the fourth quarter when seniro Dylan Brown hit a 3 to break a 45-45 tie, outscoring the Indians 12-7 the rest of the way, capping Hays High’s season at 14-7. Buhler moved to 13-7 and was led by 14 points for senior Dalton Brown.
Hays High will say farewell to five seniors with the loss, plus two managers in Reese and Dakota Lovell. Murphy, Ethan Nunnery, Nick Fisher, Kieffer and Kyler Koenke all played their final game.
“So proud of these guys,” Keltner said. “It’s been a great journey.”