MANHATTAN — The miss was a surprise.
The second putback was a surprise as well.
But the biggest surprise of all: A win instead of double-overtime.
That’s what Wednesday’s first-round game of the Class 2A state tournament in Manhattan came down to for the Hill City High School girls’ basketball team.
The Ringnecks fought and clawed their way all game long, eventually finding themselves in overtime.
But when senior Carrie Kennedy scored on a putback off her own miss as the final horn expired, she and her coach thought they were headed to double-overtime at first.
Seconds later, the realization changed as Hill City made the semifinals with a 50-49 overtime win against Pittsburg-St. Mary’s/Colgan at Bramlage Coliseum.
“I honestly thought we were down two,” Kennedy said. “I thought we got to go to overtime again. Then Lauren jumps on me and I catch her and realize that we won. It was crazy.”
The win put the Ringnecks (20-3) into Friday’s 3 p.m. semifinal against four-time defending champ Central Plains (23-0). The Oilers beat Inman, 55-30, behind 29 points from sophomore Emily Ryan.
But the ending wasn’t the only craziness for the Ringnecks. Instead, it started in the first quarter as Colgan was in the foul bonus and used all those free throws to help itself out to a 13-9 lead after only eight minutes.
“Foul trouble, and we couldn’t make a shot,” said Hill City coach Linda Nighswonger. “There was a lot of contact, and we couldn’t finish. We just had to keep plugging away. That’s kind of how we’ve been all season long.”
Indeed the Ringnecks struggled in multiple ways, including shooting. The team shot only 23 percent from the field and allowed Colgan to make 11 of 16 attempts at the free-throw line.
Still, Hill City trailed only 25-21 at halftime.
“We played even with them in the second quarter. We came back,” Nighswonger said. “It wasn’t even the whole way, but we came back.”
The lead grew to double figures in the third quarter, with Colgan junior Catherine Farmer powering the Panthers. The Ringnecks had no answer for the 5-foot-8 swing player, who finished with 28 points before fouling out in overtime.
Even with all the obstacles, Hill City remained close and trailed only 35-32 entering the fourth quarter.
The Ringnecks fell behind by four before freshman Alissa Keith scored on a putback and senior Conner Keith hit from well beyond the 3-point line for a 40-39 lead for Hill City with 4:05 remaining.
A layup by senior Lauren Jones made it 42-39 with a minute and a half to play.
But with Hill City leading 44-41, Farmer was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 1.4 seconds left in regulation. She calmly hit all three to force overtime.
“They came out and hit some shots and got the ball to the Farmer girl,” Nighswonger said. “Holy cow, she’s a player. We didn’t have an answer for her. I’m surprised and not surprised because that’s kind of how our season has gone. We’ve had struggles through injuries or sickness or whatever. So it didn’t surprise me that we could do it. It just was that we kept taking longer and longer to do it. Eventually, time runs out.”
Farmer fouled out with 1:13 to play in overtime and Colgan leading 47-46. The Panthers would push the lead to 49-46 with two free throws with 37.6 seconds remaining in overtime.
Senior Shaylin Russell scored at the other end to pull Hill City within 49-48 seconds later.
“We’re a fighting team,” said Kennedy, who finished with five points and nine rebounds. “I think we like to trail, honestly. We start slow on purpose some times just so we can fight back.”
With 17.5 seconds left, Colgan missed two free throws, and Hill City grabbed the rebound.
Conner Keith worked the clock before driving and hoisting up a runner in the lane.
“I was confident in it, really,” Kennedy said. “If there’s anybody I want shooting at the end of the game, it’s her.”
The shot bounced off and into the hands of Kennedy, who put the ball back up.
Her first attempt missed, but the ball careened right back to her. She didn’t hesitate, putting the ball back up and through the hoop as the horn sounded.
“Honestly, she missed one free throw, so we’re down one at that point,” Nighswonger said. “We just needed to drive to the hole, and then we’re not driving. Finally, somebody shoots and I was thinking it was going to go to overtime again. I look up and we won. It was a good thing it took awhile. We didn’t give ourselves a chance to foul.”
The putback left the Panthers and coach Abby Farabi stunned as the Hill City fans erupted.
“We just didn’t box out,” Farabi said. “I think we got caught in the moment, unfortunately, at the most inopportune time. But you know what, you live and you learn.”
Conner Keith led Hill City with 23 points on 8-of-28 shooting from the floor. Hill City shot only 28 percent for the game and overcame Colgan attempting 13 more free throws.
But the Ringnecks also forced 22 turnovers compared to committing nine. Conner Keith finished with five of the team’s nine steals.
“Kudos to the girls to continue to fight,” Nighswonger said. “They did what they needed to do.”
Next up is Central Plains, a team that has been ranked No. 1 for the majority of the last few seasons in 2A.
“We played them about two years ago in the semis, and we were so close,” Nighswonger said about a 53-47 loss in 2016 to the Oilers. “We had a couple mistakes late that they capitalized on. Our mantra is, ‘Why not us?’ You just show up and play and see what the score is at the end. We’ll give it our best shot.”