DODGE CITY — Friday’s semifinal matchup featured the state’s top two teams in Class 1A Division II, Cunningham and Quinter.
With poor shooting and many turnovers, the game didn’t feel — or look — like a premier game, but Quinter didn’t care as it reached Saturday’s final with a 36-22 win over the Wildcats.
Quinter took a 17-11 halftime lead and turned it into a 33-17 lead with 5:40 to play in the game, as Cunningham had trouble holding onto the ball and putting it through the net.
The top seed managed just 8 of 40 from the field, were whistled for 21 fouls and turned the ball over 20 times in an uncharacteristic performance.
But it wasn’t unprecedented, as Cunningham dropped its only game this season to South Barber in January, 29-18.
That was the word Quinter coach Matt Havlas used to describe his team’s reaction to making the state finals for the first time in school history.
“It was all about getting to the championship game,” he said after meeting briefly with his team in a jubilant locker room.
“We defended the heck out of them. To hold the number-one team in the state to (22 points) — we did good,” Havlas said.
The Wildcats struggled throughout the first half, with more turnovers (12) than points (11) as the Bulldogs’ defense stifled the tournament’s top seed in the first 16 minutes.
But Quinter only led 17-11 at intermission as the Bulldogs shot just 6 of 25 from the floor.
Fortunately, the Wildcats were colder (3 of 20).
After the break, Quinter, the No. 4 seed, took control, taking a 27-13 lead just three minutes into the third quarter, shooting 4 of 6, including a pair of 3s.
Managing just a free throw the rest of the quarter, they held on to a 28-17 heading into the final period.
Two minutes into the final quarter, Quinter scored five straight points for a 33-19 lead, holding Cunningham to two field goals in a two-minute span, but that was it.
The early turnovers caused by Quinter’s defense showed just how hyped they were for this game, Havlas said.
“I’ve coached these girls since the third grade and we’ve worked and worked through the summers in the hot gyms,” he said. “We’ve shot shots to win the state championship in practice. For this to happen to us is just amazing.”
The Quinter defense limited Cunningham’s posts to just 2 of 23 shooting, forcing a number of airballs, one-look possessions, and five offensive fouls to turn the ball over.
It was a team effort, Havlas said, even when some girls struggled offensively.
“The girls believed,” he said. “Led by five seniors who have started every game for me this year.”
At halftime, he told his team they were just one half away from one goal of getting to the state finals.
Now there’s just one team goal left — a state title, a chance for them Saturday against Hartford, the third seed, making its first appearance in the state tournament.
“We’re going to have to believe,” Havlas said. “We’ll have a big crowd. We’re playing for the state championship. Our girls aren’t going go come here and lay down. We’re going to come a play hard.”