By AUSTIN COLBERT
The Hays High School boys' basketball team knows if Brady Werth gets his, everything else will fall into place. However, this was easier said than done for the Indians through the first five games of the season, with the 6-foot-7 senior averaging just 10.6 points and roughly seven rebounds a contest.
It wasn't about intent -- the Hays High players want nothing more than to feed their big man -- but about execution, something that looked miles ahead of where it had been on Tuesday in the Indians' 69-53 win over Junction City High School (1-3) in the HHS gym.
"I think we got more used to giving him the ball and pump faking and getting good passes to him. That's what we've been focusing on in practice is getting him the ball," senior guard Cash Hobson said. "It was really easy to get him the ball because he was posting hard and then he got pretty much every single rebound it seemed like. It made the game way easier. ... So that worked pretty good tonight."
Werth, a Fort Hays State University basketball signee, had easily his best game of the young season against the Bluejays. He finished with a game-high 20 points to go with a career-high 22 rebounds, improving the Indians to 5-1 on the season with a long holiday break upcoming.
"It feels good. I just know my teammates were looking for me a little bit harder than they were at the beginning of the season. I know I have to be a leader out there and it's starting to show," Werth said. "I wasn't really too frustrated. In a way, yeah, because you don't get the ball as much, but when you have outside guys as good as we have hitting shots, teams are not going to be able to do much when we have outside shooters and inside guys."
Werth was hardly alone on the scoring front Tuesday, the Indians getting 18 points from Hobson -- matching a career high he set in Hays High's season opening 65-53 win over De Soto -- and 14 from junior guard Keith Dryden, who is averaging 20.6 points over the last three games.
But as effective as their offense was, it was really the defense that led the way to victory. The Indians opened the game in their usual zone defense, only to watch as Junction City hit four 3-pointers and trailed just 22-21 after a quarter. The Bluejays opened the second quarter with two more 3-pointers to take an eventual 29-24 lead before the Indians decided they had enough.
"We were playing zone and that wasn't really working because they got shooters and we only have two guys out front," Werth said. "Going to man -- we haven't done a lot of man, but we showed we can play man. I think that stopped their shooters and that helped us through the game."
Hays High's switch from zone to man-to-man defense proved to be a defining moment in the game. The Indians finished the half on a 12-0 run and took a 36-29 lead into the locker room after outscoring the Bluejays 14-8 in the quarter.
Junction City responded early in the third quarter, getting as close as 41-38 midway through, before the Indians stepped on the gas to take a 51-40 lead into the fourth. From there, Hays High's lead reached as much as 22 before a few baggage points from the Bluejays ended the game.
Junior Ricardo Erans led Junction City with 11 points.
"I think we can be a dangerous team. It's just taking care of the ball and defending. I thought our man-to-man saved us tonight the way Junction was shooting the ball," HHS coach Rick Keltner said. "We want to play fast, we want to play hard and we want to finish. That's our slogan, and I thought we did do that tonight. It was kind of a fun game but it took us a while. We have to keep cleaning some stuff up. The effort was good, we just got to get better."
The Indians, ranked No. 6 in Class 4A Division I this week, will have plenty of time to prepare for their next game, which isn't until Jan. 9 when they travel to Liberal High School. They won't return home until a Jan. 16 contest against Garden City High School, following a trip to Great Bend on Jan. 13.
HHS girls top Junction City to reach .500 on season
The final box score between the Hays High School girls' basketball team and Junction City on Tuesday showed two very different games. What stood out the most was the ugly, including a combined 48 turnovers, 41 personal fouls and 16 of 42 (38 percent) performance from the free-throw line.
But when you are coming off an 0-21 season, you aren't going to be too picky with the details. The Indians made up for the errors by outrebounding the Bluejays by 16 and outscoring them 15-0 on second-chance points to earn the 54-43 win in the HHS gym.
The 54 points is the most scored by Hays High since a 56-38 win over Dodge City High School on Feb. 19, 2013 -- a stretch of 28 games -- a win that was followed up by a 23-game losing streak, snapped in a Dec. 5 win over Colby.
It's the first time the Indians have won back-to-back games since wins over Liberal (57-31) on Feb. 8, 2013, and over Abilene (51-30) on Feb. 12, 2013. The Liberal win was also the last time Hays High had won a game on its home court.
"It's not very often that you foul 19 times and have 29 turnovers and win a basketball game and only shoot 41 percent from the free-throw line. It was a sloppy game," HHS coach Kirk Maska said. "But the second-chance shots were big. A lot of times I thought we were too far under and didn't get good shots off ... so I'm sure it really looked sloppy. It sure did from where I was sitting anyway. But we didn't let it bother us and we kept playing. Actually we kept getting better at the end."
Hays High used strong first and fourth quarters to earn the win, junior Audra Schmeidler's 19 points leading all players and matching a career high she set last season against Junction City, a 52-30 loss. The Indians also got 10 points from junior Haley George, which also matched her career high, set just a game ago in their 39-35 win at Colby.
"It feels amazing. All the team is excited. We just want to keep this winning streak going and keep pushing," Schmeidler said. "I feel like we are playing together and playing more for each other and as a team. And we are actually running our offense and working together. ... My teammates did a good job of finding me and I was just able to knock down open shots."
Schmeidler was hot out of the gate, scoring 10 of the Indians' first 14 points, guiding them to a 19-8 lead after the first quarter. She was limited to a mere two made free throws on four attempts in the second quarter, as fouls and turnovers started to mount for both teams, Hays High limping into halftime with a 27-21 lead.
The third quarter only got worse for the Indians, the Bluejays pressure defense getting the better of them. Junction City slowly whittled away the score, finally taking a 33-32 lead late in the quarter, its first since it was 2-0. A basket by senior Ashlyn Parrish ended an 8-0 JC run and gave the Indians a 34-33 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
"We got in a really big hurry and we just were rushing everything. I feel like if we would have slowed down it would have been a completely different (game)," Schmeidler said. "We just had a little talk between the third and fourth quarter. We said we need to slow down and their pressure was going to get to us sometime, but we just need to push the ball and run our offense and it will come together."
The Indians did just that, outscoring Junction City 20-10 over the final eight minutes, the Bluejays full-court pressure suddenly an easy problem to solve. Foul shots continued to be a tall task -- HHS was 11 of 26 for the game -- but made enough from the field to pull away for the win.
"It's a lot more fun when you win," Maska said. "I don't know that we responded real well in the second quarter to their run. But we did come back out and play a better third quarter and then followed up with a great fourth quarter."
Hays High heads into the holiday break with a 3-3 record, while Junction City fell to 0-4.
Hays High 69, Junction City 53
Junction City (1-3) 21 8 11 13 -- 53
Hays High (5-1) 22 14 15 18 -- 69
JC -- Ricardo Erans 11, Hall 9, Poole 9, Lueker 8, Bryan 4, Hand 3, Arneson 3, Wilson 2, Avant 2, Baldwin 2
HHS -- Brady Werth 20, Cash Hobson 18, Keith Dryden 14, Young 9, Nunnery 6, Winter 2
Hays High 54, Junction City 43
Junction City (0-4) 8 13 12 10 -- 43
Hays High (3-3) 19 8 7 20 -- 54
JC -- A'Kia Fain 15, Alana Kramer 11, Rains 9, Bell 5, Mobley 3
HHS -- Audra Schmeidler 19, Haley George 10, Parrish 9, Kleweno 5, Schlaefli 3, Keller 3, Russell 3, Smith 2.