GREAT BEND — Untimely turnovers and missed free throws haunted the Hays High boys in their first Western Athletic Conference loss on Tuesday at rival Great Bend.
The Indians were playing catch up most of the way but had several opportunities to put the pressure on the Panthers late. After trailing by as much as 12 early in the fourth, Hays cut the deficit down to three, but empty possessions prevented the Indians from drawing closer.
One last push in the final minute came up short, with Great Bend holding on for a 60-56 victory to move into a first-place tie with Hays atop the WAC standings at 4-1.
Hays High coach Alex Hutchins said the Indians "played their hearts out,” but were hurt by a handful of missed offensive opportunities and a 7-of-15 showing at the foul line.
“It was just the little things — the things that hopefully we can control moving forward, the things we have to control against a good team,” Hutchins said. “When you’ve got the ball in your hands, you’ve got to take care of it and take advantage and get a good possession. When you work hard and get the opportunity to go to the line, you’ve got to make them pay and hit those.
“We didn’t do enough of those two things tonight.”
Hays (9-6, 4-1 WAC) stayed within striking distance but could never get closer than three in the second half. With the Indians down five, the Panthers gained some breathing room after forcing a steal with 1:51 left and building the lead to nine on free throws with 41 seconds remaining.
“We didn’t have a crazy numbers of turnovers, it was more so the timing of them,” Hutchins said. “It was the moments where we were trying to break through. We were right on the cusp and didn’t get it done.
“I think it was potentially our guys pressing or trying to make the big play or be the hero or in the moment. We’ve got a good team, we got a lot of guys that play well when they play together, so hopefully it’s something we can watch on film and continue to learn from.”
Aided by 3-pointers from Carson Kieffer and Jordan Dale, Hays crept back within three with 3.9 seconds left, but Great Bend (12-4) made 1 of 2 free throws with 2.2 ticks left to seal it.
“I’m really proud of the way we finished,” Hutchins said. “I’m proud of how the boys kept scrapping on defense and stayed aggressive and tried to make things happen on offense.”
Kieffer led Hays High with 15 points, while Dalyn Schwarz added 12.
Dalton Miller had a team-high 13 points for Great Bend, while Alex Schremmer, who went for 35 in the first meeting with Hays, finished with 11.
GREAT BEND GIRLS 35, HAYS HIGH 20
The Indians’ offensive struggles continued, going just 8 of 41 from the field as Hays dropped its fourth straight game and fell to 4-11 overall and 1-4 in the WAC.
Hays trailed 9-6 at the end of the first, 19-8 at halftime and 31-16 after three quarters, struggling against the Panthers’ zone.
Freshman Carly Lang led the Indians with nine points while sophomore Aleyia Ruder scored six.
Eight Panthers entered the scoring column for Great Bend, which was paced by junior Candice Smith’s 10 points. The Panthers avenged a 37-36 loss to the Indians on last-second free throws.
Great Bend improved to 4-12 overall and 1-4 in WAC play.
Hays High will play at Liberal on Friday.