By AUSTIN COLBERT
Beth Bohuslavsky wasn’t supposed to have that much of an impact on Saturday’s game. A junior on the Fort Hays State University women’s basketball team, Bohuslavsky strained a ligament in her knee Feb. 26 at the University of Central Oklahoma and missed the next four games, including all of the MIAA Tournament.
She made her return on Friday in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II Central Region tournament against Minnesota State University-Mankato, a 74-57 FHSU win, where she played 12 minutes and scored nine points. Bohuslavsky was expected to have a similar role in Saturday’s regional semifinal against Wayne State College, but when her replacement in the starting lineup — sophomore Nikola Kacperska — was injured late in the first half, she was called upon to step in and lead the Tigers even though she wasn’t 100 percent healthy.
“It’s a good thing her heart outweighs the rest of her body, because she played against a great team and played hurt for way more minutes that we planned on using her,” FHSU coach Tony Hobson said of Bohuslavsky, the team’s 5-foot-6 point guard. “And not only that, but she hasn’t practiced for two weeks, at least. And she hits a couple of threes, made her free throws. We’ll just not let her practice any more I guess.”
Bohuslavsky finished with 12 points in 28 minutes, a key reason why No. 6-ranked FHSU, the region’s top seed, pulled away from No. 19 WSC, the fourth seed, in the second half on Saturday to win 70-54 at Gross Memorial Coliseum. The victory moves FHSU (30-3) into Monday’s 7 p.m. regional championship game against Emporia State University (27-4), which defeated Pittsburg State University in overtime 65-54 in Saturday’s first semifinal matchup.
“I just got to step it up. She stepped it up for me when I went out, so I just wanted to step it up for her,” Bohuslavsky said of Kacperska. “Because conference tournament, she played with a lot of heart, so I just wanted to do that for her.”
Kacperska’s status for Monday’s championship game wasn’t immediately known following Saturday’s game. She tried to return to the court but Hobson said “she was real gimpy” and was relegated to sitting on the bench with ice strapped to her knee.
But even without a healthy point guard, the Tigers had little trouble in the second half against the Wildcats, finally figuring out their tricky zone defense to pour on 49 points after the break, when FHSU led by only two points at 21-19.
“I was worried coming in about their zone defense, because we haven’t played against one,” Hobson said. “I was worried about our execution and being able to get the ball where we needed to and make some shots. And I think that was pretty evident the first half. And I thought the second half we kind of settled in and moved the ball a little bit better and got better shots from the perimeter.”
FHSU shot just 31 percent (9 of 29) and was 0 for 6 from 3-point range in the first half, but heated up in the second half. The Tigers shot 56 percent after the break and made 5 of 9 from deep, Bohuslavsky and junior guard Chelsea Mason each making two and sophomore Jill Faxon putting in the fifth 3-pointer.
Also key to FHSU’s dominance after halftime was senior center Kate Lehman, who led all players with 23 points, including a 11 of 14 showing from the free-throw line.
“They’ve been No. 1 in the region all year for a reason. They showed it tonight. They certainly got the player of the year in the country. If that kid doesn’t win that award, they shouldn’t have one,” WSC coach Chris Kielsmeier said of Lehman. “We just didn’t play really well in a stretch in the second half when we missed some shots and they hit a string of threes where it really kind of swung the momentum of the game. It was really difficult for us to be able to fight back.”
In Friday’s quarterfinal win over Harding University, Wayne State scored 87 points, making 62.1 percent of its shots in the second half and connected on 12 of 23 from 3-point range in the game. But against FHSU, the Wildcats could find no rhythm on offense, shooting 33.3 percent and making only 2 of 16 from three.
“Anybody that saw them play Harding knows if you let them take open threes they are going to drill you, because they are excellent shooters,” Hobson said. “So we were trying to push them out a little bit … I just thought defensively we switched screens well when we needed to and their flares weren’t effective because we switched and communicated fairly well.”
FHSU trailed only once all game when WSC took a 19-18 lead on a Paige Ballinger free throw with 1:18 until halftime, a layup by FHSU’s Sarah Pimentel from Lehman reclaiming the lead for the Tigers only 12 seconds later.
Less than four minutes into the second half, FHSU’s lead had grown to 13 points at 32-19. Wayne State made only one serious rally, getting within six points at 40-34 with 11:43 to play. Enter Bohuslavsky, who made both of her 3-point attempts in the next three minutes, FHSU’s lead growing to as much as 20 points with less than four minutes remaining.
“We knew going into the game we had to hit shots and make plays from the perimeter. We just didn’t have our best night from the perimeter,” Kielsmeier said. “We just didn’t hit shots. First-class place; tremendous environment. What they are doing here is awfully special. They got a great thing going here for a reason.”
Outside of Lehman and Bohuslavsky, Mason also finished in double figures with 13 points for the Tigers. Ballinger and Ashton Yossi each had 16 for the Wildcats, which finished the season with a 28-6 record.