SALINA — Nothing went right for the Hays Indians during their Class 5A sub-state semifinal match-up against Salina Central on Thursday.
The Indians were whipped in every area as the senior-laden Mustangs rolled to a 70-27 victory on their home floor. The victory advanced Central (16-5) to Saturday’s sub-state finals at Wichita Heights, while Hays ends its season at 9-12, just the second losing season in the last 18 years for the program.
“All the credit goes to Central,” Hays head coach Rick Keltner said. “They were great tonight. We’ve had some battles here. Sorry we didn’t give them a better game.”
The Indians, who ended the season with a five-game losing streak, couldnt get anything going against Central’s tough pressure defense. Not only did the Mustangs play suffocating defense, but they added to that with some accurate long-range shooting on the offensive end.
Central buried 11 3-pointers in 24 attempts and held a 30-20 advantage on the boards. Add 16 turnovers by the Indians, just 10 made field goals the entire game and it was a recipe for disaster.
It was simply too much for the Indians - who have just three seniors on its roster - to handle.
“Central’s got a great team. I like them,” Keltner said. “I’ve told (Central) Coach (Doug) Finch, I really like his team. They’re really physical, they play good defense and they have several guys who can shoot 3’s, and they’re quick. Quickness is important in the game of basketball. They’re a great tournament team and I wish them well.”
The home-standing Mustangs (16-5) shot 61.5 percent from the field in the second half, turned the ball over just eight times, knocked down 11 3-pointers and owned the backboards against their taller opponent.
All in all, just what the doctor ordered for the Mustangs, who have their sights set on a deep postseason run.
“You know, as well as we play defense and as well as we shoot it, it’s a great combination, and they proved it one more time tonight,” Central coach Doug Finch said. “Eleven 3s and hold a team to 27 points. The second half was particularly special on the defensive end.”
Heights, also 16-5, defeated Salina South, 59-35, in the other semifinal game, which meant Thursday night’s game was officially the final one at home for Central’s seven seniors.
“We were hoping maybe for a South upset, but we really weren’t counting on it,” said Central senior David Grammer, who led his team with 18 points. “We’ve been prepping for Heights for the past week. We’re expecting a zone. Hopefully they’ll come out in a zone because we have a lot of 3-point shooting threats on this team and I think a zone is a good match-up for us.”
The Mustangs were never challenged in this one. It was a 16-9 game late in the first quarter when a Brogen Richardson 3-pointer started an 11-0 run. That was followed by runs of 11-0 and 8-0 in the third quarter and a 17-0 run with a running clock in the fourth.
Simply put, the Mustangs were zeroed in on both ends of the court.
“Last year we got to the state finals and lost, obviously, and we don’t want to happen this year,” Grammer said. “We’re going 110 percent every single game. We’re not taking any team lightly, even a first-round game. We’re going hard every second, every play, and I think we’re going to take it all the way this year.”
Ten different players scored for the Mustangs, who shot 16 of 26 from the field in the second half (.615) and held Hays to just four field goals in the final two quarters. Ben Driver (11 points and 6 rebounds) and Richardson (11 points) joined Grammer in double figures for the winners.
Hays was led by Tradgon McCrae with seven points, while T.J. Nunnery and Cade Swayne had six each. The Indians were held to 28.6 percent shooting for the game. The game was the final one for McCrae, Swayne and fellow senior Braiden Meyers.
“We’ve got a young team. These kids have some good days ahead of them but tonight certainly wasn’t a great night for Hays High basketball,” Keltner said. “We didn’t shoot well, we didn’t defend well and we didn’t take care of it, but I think you have to give Central some credit.
“They were what, three seconds or so away from a state title last year and they have everybody back, so I think we lost to a very good ball club.”