By AUSTIN COLBERT
PITTSBURG -- As it turns out, being the hunted isn't nearly as easy as being the hunter. Back on Jan. 24 in Hays, the Fort Hays State University women's basketball team made easy work of then-No. 4 Pittsburg State University, winning 62-43 in an upset that vaulted the Tigers to the top of the MIAA.
On Saturday in Pittsburg, with the Tigers ranked No. 2 in the country and perfect in the conference, the No. 10 Gorillas weren't going to allow the same results in the rematch, even after FHSU raced out to an early 10-point lead.
"I thought it was dÃ©jÃ vu from when we were down there in Hays," PSU coach Lane Lord said of the early minutes of Saturday's game. "When they got out to the big lead I was really, really nervous. But we were able to kind of just hang around in that first half and make a few shots to get back in it."
FHSU (22-2 overall, 14-1 MIAA) held PSU (23-3, 13-2) at arm's length most of the afternoon, but a late push gave the Gorillas the 65-59 win, likely keeping the Tigers from a possible No. 1-ranking and snapped what had been a 21-game win streak dating back to a Nov. 15 loss to then-No. 10 Concordia-St. Paul, 70-68, in Minnesota.
"At that time we were the underdog, so we were laying in the weeds for them. And now we are the favorite, on their home court," FHSU coach Tony Hobson said, comparing the first game against PSU to Saturday's rematch. "I think any of them would be bad, but here's the thing: it's way better than losing one against somebody that is in ninth or 10th. This is a team to be reckoned with."
FHSU led 12-2 less than five minutes into the game and looked as if it would run away from the Gorillas yet again, but 10 minutes later PSU held a three-point advantage, with a late surge giving the Tigers a 36-31 halftime lead.
What plagued the Tigers in the second half were fouls. PSU shot just four free throws in the first half, making three, but finished the game going 20 of 28 from the foul line. The Gorillas shot just 25.8 percent from the field in the second half, making the majority of their points via the free-throw line.
"We couldn't keep them off the line. Any time somebody shoots 24 free throws in a half is going to be hard to beat," Hobson said. "We couldn't keep them off the line and they did a good job of shooting them. Sometimes you just got to give somebody credit. They played hard. They looked like a little more hungrier team today. They got more rebounds, more loose balls, and it showed."
FHSU led 52-49 with 8:04 to play when it seemed everything that had already been difficult most of the game got even more so. PSU went on a short run to take a 59-53 lead with two minutes to play and the Tigers could do little to stem the momentum, being forced into difficult shots.
A three-pointer by FHSU sophomore guard Jill Faxon made it a three-point game at 62-59 with 19 seconds remaining, but a pair of Mikaela Burgess free throws on the other end finally put the game out of reach.
"They pressed us more of the game, which we did prepare for that because we expected it, because we've struggled against it. Just one of those things where it seemed we didn't have the energy to finish the game," Hobson said. "We have to worry about us and not necessarily the results of today. Just regroup and how that we can take the punch and get up and be ready to play Wednesday."
Senior Kate Lehman led the Tigers with 19 points and eight rebounds, junior guard Beth Bohuslavsky scoring 11 points with eight rebounds. Faxon also finished in double figures with 10 points.
Lizzy Jeronimus and Cathy Brugman each had 17 points for the Gorillas.
"For us to win against Hays we have to limit them to one shot," Lord said. "And in the first half they had 10 offensive rebounds and they were able to get second-chance opportunities. In the second half they had zero offensive rebounds and that's the difference in the game."
"What a great job Tony Hobson has done. Kate Lehman is the best player in the league," Lord added. "We were just lucky we were at home today. We were able to make some plays down the stretch. But very impressed with Fort Hays State."
FHSU still holds a one-game lead over PSU in the MIAA with four games to play. The Tigers will host Washburn University at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday for senior night.