By MIKE KESSINGER
It wasn't so much relief for the Hays High School girls Friday as it was just nice to snap a nine-game losing streak.
The Indians used a strong defensive effort in the third quarter to hold Liberal to just three points and then held on for a 45-41 Western Athletic Conference victory at Hays High gym. Hays High scored all of its seven points in the final eight minutes at the free throw line to seal the win.
"We have all been working so hard," Hays High junior Audra Schmeidler said.
"I think we all felt like we deserved to win this game. We just wanted to go out there and get this losing streak off our back."
After a back and forth first quarter, the Indians were able to put some separation between themselves and Liberal. Two Summer Smith free throws gave Hays High a 22-18 lead. Junior Nicole Dinkel made it a five-point lead with one free throw. Liberal was able to cut it to a one-point deficit before Dinkel knocked down a short jumper to put HHS up 25-22 at halftime.
Hays High used a strong balance on the offensive side in the first half, with Schmeidler and sophomore point guard Talyn Kleweno scoring seven points apiece.
"When we played (Liberal) at their house, it was a close ball game and then, all of a sudden, they kind of got hot and blew it open," Hays High coach Kirk Maska said. "I was just glad to see the girls got a little revenge tonight and got the win."
The Indians carried momentum from the second quarter into the second half, and clamped down on the Redskin offense. While the defense was working the Indians started to pull away. Senior Brooke Russell hit a 3-pointer, then Schmeidler converted a layup to make it a 34-24 game. Schmeidler hit a turnaround jumper late in the corner to give Hays High its largest lead at 38-25.
From there, it was just a matter of holding on as the Redskins slowly started to come back.
"The big thing is we kind of went into panic mode in the fourth quarter, but we kind of snapped out of it and shot free throws extremely well tonight," Maska said. "That was huge for us. We just stepped up to the line late and knocked them down and held on."
Hays High went into a spread offense to start the final eight-minute stretch and struggled to find much of a good look at a shot. Liberal crept within 38-32 on a Jasmine Hernandez 3-pointer.
A pair of Russell free throws were Hays High's first points of the quarter at the 2:13 mark. The Indians, 17 of 25 at the free-throw line, converted five of their final eight attempts at the line in the final 1:30. It was enough to hold off the inconsistent Liberal offensive attack.
"I felt like this game was different (from the first match-up with Liberal) because we played more together," Schmeidler said. "When we were there, we were out of sync."
The win gives Hays High its first WAC victory of the season and puts them 4-12 overall.
Schmeidler led all Hays High scorers with 16 points. She was 8 of 10 at the free throw line.
Jada Mickens scored 16 for Liberal and she had a game-high 14 rebounds.
Hays High 45, Liberal 41
Liberal (3-13, 1-5) 12 10 3 16 -- 41
Hays High (4-12, 1-5) 11 14 13 7 -- 45
Liberal -- : Mickens 16, Lucero 7, Hernandez 7, Shelton 4, Limon 3, Nunez-Barron 2, Nunez 2.
Hays High -- Schmeidler 16, Kleweno 7, Russell 6, Smith 5, Schlaefli 4, Keller 4, Dinkel 3.