HOXIE — It had been 107 games since the Hoxie girls’ basketball team left a gym defeated.
On this Tuesday night in late January, a game the Hill City Ringnecks circled the moment schedules were released, Hoxie senior Terran Hoyt emerged from a silent locker room.
To her left stood her older sister, Corinna. Walking right behind her was her mother and head coach, Shelly.
Terran turned to Corinna, weeping with tears flooding from her face, and embraced her big sis. It was a feeling unknown to Shelly since 2011, the last time Hoxie experienced the sorrow and hurt of a loss.
But once the final horn sounded after a thrilling 53-48 overtime loss to Hill City, it all came back in a flash. The girls have lost plenty of games outside of a high school basketball season, whether it be with a club team or in volleyball. But no team in the history of Kansas high school basketball experienced the feelings Hoxie did in the aftermath of its first loss in 108 tries.
“We never once set out to do that. I just told the girls, ‘Back in 2011, nobody said hey, let’s go on a 107, whatever streak it is,” Shelly Hoyt said, even questioning the length of the streak.
It is something the Indians never bring up. They haven’t needed to with four consecutive state championships in their back pocket.
“I’m pretty proud of our kids,” Hoyt said. “They fought hard … I’m really proud of them. It was never, ever, ever about that streak. … Our kids are disappointed because we didn’t fulfill that, but our goal is not to go undefeated. Our dream is to win the Class 1A state championship.”
Both sets of bleachers inside Hoxie High School’s gym were packed to the brim and clad in red, making it impossible to draw a line between the home and away fans. From the moment the teams took the floor for final warm-ups five minutes before tipoff, the crowd well into the hundreds ticked the decibel meter for 36 minutes of electric, back-and-forth basketball.
“When I walked out and I saw this crowd, I thought, ‘Wow, I really hope we put on a show,’ ” Hoyt said. “And they did. They did.”
With Hoxie entering the contest at 12-0 and ranked first in Class 1A Division I, Hill City (10-1) nearly entered with a perfect record.
The Ringnecks, No. 4 in Class 2A, lost their lone game to 3A Thomas More Prep-Marian in the finals of the Mid-Continent League Tournament on Saturday in Plainville. Even with two highly touted teams inching closer and closer to facing off, Hoxie did not look past one opponent leading up to Tuesday.
“Who doesn’t want to come see that game? All I’ve heard since this basketball season started was Hill City coming to Hoxie. You know what, we didn’t mention Hill City until (Monday) in practice,” Coach Hoyt said. “We didn’t worry about Hill City. Hill City is not circled on our schedule anywhere. Our whole entire schedule is circled. So be it if they wanna circle our game. But just like I told the girls (Monday) in practice, who doesn’t? Who didn’t circle us? For 14-, 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kids, it was fun.
“Now we’re gonna start again. We’re gonna go after it on Friday and start another one.”
The tone for the game, which had the immediate feeling of an instant classic, was first set by Hill City. Lexie McDowell, a senior signee to Washburn University, opened the game with a trey on her way to scoring Hill City’s first seven points.
In a 7-2 hole, Hoxie sophomore Rebekah Castle completed back-to-back three-point plays on consecutive possession to gain the advantage. On the very next trip down the floor, sophomore Lilly Schamberger followed suit with a finished and-one of her own. Hoxie led by the skin of its teeth at 12-11 after one.
A 3-pointer by Hill City’s Lauren Jones, a 5-foot-5 sophomore, pushed the Ringnecks back ahead midway through the second, 16-15. Down by a single point with under five seconds left in the half, Hoxie senior Lara Stephens beat the buzzer on a jumper from the top of the paint to take a 23-22 edge into the break.
As Hoxie does with its four-out, one-in offense, their ability to shoot around the perimeter and find backdoor cutters for easy layups pushed the Indians ahead late in the quarter.
“They do a four-out, which is a little different than what we normally see,” McDowell said. “It’s kinda trying to just rotate and get everybody covered.”
“It’s just hard because they have shooters, too,” added Hill City head coach Linda Nighswonger. “Tonight we were covering their shooters and then they got that backdoor cut. But if you don’t cover their shooters, then they’re gonna shoot threes. It’s tough, you’ve gotta guard everywhere, but they get you really spread out.”
Coming out of the locker room, McDowell pushed the Ringnecks back ahead with a jumper to start the second half. That's when Hoxie’s Brynn Niblock, a 5-foot-11 junior, drilled Hoxie’s first 3-pointer of the game and seemed to turn the momentum in favor of the Indians. Minutes later she completed another three-point play for Hoxie, its fourth of the game.
Ringneck sophomore Conner Keith pulled her team within two thanks to a nothing-but-net 3-pointer, only for Hoxie sharp-shooter Serena McCown to make her first basket of the game to put Hoxie up by four after three quarters, 33-29.
“We just knew we needed to pick up our offense,” Adrianna Nickelson said. “Our offense was kind of slacking. We just knew we needed to work hard and rebound well.”
The first possession of the fourth came in the fashion of a made trey by the 5-10 McDowell, who finished with a game-high 19 points. Baskets by Nickelson and Carrie Kennedy made for a 7-0 run and three-point Hill City advantage.
At that point, Hill City turned to a play they used to run often before teams caught on. With McDowell handling the ball on the wing of the 3-point arc, Nickelson, standing at the intersection of the paint and the free-throw line, flared out and cut to the basket. On three tries, Nickelson made two layups and picked up one point on a free throw thanks to her aggressiveness driving to the hoop.
“We do that about every game,” Nickelson said. “We didn’t really think about doing it until the end, and it worked really well. … It works really well, especially with Lexie since she’s so tall.”
With both teams in the foul bonus, Hoxie got the ball back down by two, 44-42, with just under a minute and a half to play. Twenty seconds later, Schamberger found the bottom of the net, a basket that eventually sent the two teams to overtime. Hill City dribbled out the remaining time and missed a last-ditch 3-pointer by Nickelson.
Seconds into the four-minute overtime period, Niblock made Hoxie’s third 3-pointer of the night, a rarity for a consistently hot team from the field averaging around 70 points per contest. After Hill City’s Amanda Conway missed two free throws and Hoyt made one with 2:23 to play, it appeared the streak was well in hand.
Jones came back to hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one, although Hoxie could surely dribble off the remaining time on the clock.
Keith had other plans.
“She showed a lot of talent for how young she is,” Nickelson said of Keith. “She’s just amazing. I love her to death. She’s just so good.”
As McCown dribbled up the court, the 5-foot-4 sophomore swooped in to grab a steal, giving Hill City the ball back with a chance to go ahead with under 1:30 to play. With just over one minute remaining, McDowell came through with the go-ahead layup with her left hand, sending the visiting team into the last minute ahead 49-48.
On the ensuing possession, a referee whistled Hoxie for offensive three seconds in the lane, sending the home crowd and Hoyt into a fury.
As it had all night, Hoxie pressured Hill City’s ball handlers high in the half-court set. McCown tipped the pass away and broke toward an open basket with 35 seconds to play. Once again a referee whistled against Hoxie, this time for traveling, angering Hoyt to the point of being issued a technical foul. Keith made one of two free throws to make it a three-point game.
“I knew I had to do it for the team to win the ballgame,” Keith said. “I knew I had to do it, make at least one of them.”
Conway made one of two free throws before Keith iced the game with two more makes with four seconds to play, ending the contest, and Hoxie’s 107-game winning streak, on a 9-0 run and 53-48 victory.
“Everything was just awesome tonight,” Nighswonger said. “The crowd was electric, everybody was having trouble communicating and both teams played their hearts out. You can’t ask for a better game, and fitting that it went to overtime.”
As both teams shook hands and made their way toward their respective locker rooms, the hundreds who got more than their price of admission in a basketball game rose to their feet, drawing a salute from the newly-defeated Indians.
It’s a sign that symbolizes how far Hoyt feels this program has come. While the wins will be remembered and the records were made to be broken, the streak built more than a national following on a small-town basketball team. It built character and a bond between dozens of basketball players, and that remains forever.
“Our theme is win forever, and it has nothing to do with the scoreboard,” Hoyt said. “It’s about character, integrity, which I failed right there. That’s on me. It’s about working hard and putting passion and energy and love in your teammates like no other and being a family.
“That’s what win forever means. … That’s a program to be proud of. We’re gonna come back and do it again.”