DODGE CITY — Northern Valley had an easy time in its first-round win Wednesday (63-22 over Waverly), but the Huskies found a bigger challenge in their semifinal game Friday against South Barber.
After watching South Barber cut the lead in the final period to four points, Northern Valley hit clutch free throws to pull out a 53-43 win.
The win puts the Huskies into the finals for the first time since 1991, the third of three state titles for the school.
“We weren’t able to press them,” Husky coach Chuck Fessenden said. “They went through the press pretty good early so we had to take off the trap and that restricts some of scoring.”
After trailing early, the Huskies scored eight straight points — all by Riley Sides — and grabbed a 21-17 lead at the end of the first.
A low-scoring second period found Northern Valley holding a slim 25-23 lead at intermission.
Ross Cole started the Huskies’ third with a 3, and Sides hit one himself to give their team a 31-23 lead, but South Barber cut that to 36-30 at the end of the quarter.
Northern Valley (24-1) started the fourth as it did the third, with a 3-pointer, this one of the and-one kind from Caden Bach, and the lead was nine.
Bach got the Huskies a 40-30 lead on the front end of a bonus, and on the miss, Northern Valley kept it alive until Bach hit a layup at 6:07 for a 42-30 lead, forcing South Barber to call a time out.
That break seemed to help, as the Chieftains closed the gap to 46-40 behind back-to-back 3s.
They cut the lead to 47-43 at the 1:32 mark, but Northern Valley hit free throws down the stretch — 6 of 6 — to close out the scoring and get the win.
The Huskies kept just enough of a lead throughout the second half to keep the Chieftains at bay, Fessenden said.
Northern Valley’s largest lead was 42-30 in the fourth.
“We just had a little margin but for me, it wasn’t very comfortable,” he joked. “We had a little lead all the time, but it wasn’t quite enough and we never could pull away.”
Sides led the Huskies with 17 points, Cole had 16 and Bach 10.
Halftime adjustments were pretty basic, Fessenden said.
“I told them we have to play defense. First quarter we didn’t shut them down very well,” he said. “The second quarter better, but then we weren’t scoring. Part of that was a different atmosphere and we might have got a little tired, so we’re not shooting as well as we normally do.”
Attack more inside, play harder inside. That plan worked.
Fessenden has just a day to prepare his team for the finals. That includes a walk through, scouting Friday’s late game, watching some film.
“It’s all about knowing their people. It’s not so much what do they offensively and such,” he said. “You just have to play your game, do what we do, and know who can score for them.”