In the final minutes, the Fort Hays State University women’s basketball team appeared to have things under control.
In an otherwise back-and-forth game, the Tigers had built an eight-point lead after Carly Heim hit her only 3-pointer of the game with less than three minutes to go. But, like the Gorillas had all game, Pittsburg State fought back. It just wouldn't be enough as Fort Hays State held on for a 75-70 win.
"It is such an even match-up," Fort Hays State coach Tony Hobson said. "We've had some knockout, drag outs with these guys over the years. We didn't expect anything else."
Up until the Tigers (7-0, 2-0 MIAA) took a 63-54 lead in the fourth quarter on a pair of Kacey Kennett free throws, the largest advantage either team had been able to have in the first three quarters was six. Fort Hays led 23-17 in the second quarter.
In the final 2:30 of the game, Pitt State point guard Mikaela Burgess kept the Gorillas hanging around. She hit two free throws, a layup followed by a free throw, a jumper then a 3-pointer that cut an eight-point deficit into a 72-70 game with less than a minute to go.
“She's definitely their go-to player," Kennett said of Burgess. "She was that way last year and probably has been her four years. She's a great player and you have to respect that. She played really well."
Burgess finished with a game-high 24 points, but after Taylor Rolfs gave Fort Hays a 73-70 lead with a free throw, Burgess airmailed a long 3-point attempt to tie it. A pair of Whitney Clampitt free throws with 7.3 seconds left, put the game away for good.
Hitting on 8-of-10 3-point attempts, the Tigers were able to use their strong inside-outside game with Kennett and Tatyana Legette providing much of the punch. The two combined for 39 points, Kennett scoring 20 of it. The duo scored 27 of the Tigers’ 32 second-half points.
"I felt like we got in the mind set that this is our game and we are going to beat them," Kennett said.
"It's big (to start conference with two straight wins). We started last year with two losses. It's tough to come back from that. This is a great start, so hopefully we can carry that on."
Along with Kennett and Legette scoring in double figures, Belle Barbieri had 10 rebounds for Fort Hays, a game high.
Maya Williams had 11 for Pitt State, which fell to 0-2 in the MIAA, coupled with an overtime loss on Thursday at then-unbeaten Nebraska-Kearney.
"We would like to have had Tatyana in the game more," Hobson said of Legette, who played most of the game in foul trouble. "When she's in, they don't have anybody that can guard her.
“Kacey made some big plays. She got some big minutes,” the coach added. “She's just a real seasoned player being a second year kid."
The Tigers will be on the road Wednesday at Topeka to face MIAA foe Washburn at 5:30 p.m.