The Hays High girls turned an adverse situation into a sign of growth on Tuesday night against Abilene.
After building a 13-point third-quarter lead, the Indians suddenly found themselves down four with under a minute left in the game thanks to a 23-6 Cowgirls’ run.
Aided by a big 3-point play from HHS junior Re Green and three Abilene turnovers in the last 30 seconds, the Indians dug themselves out of the late hole for a 47-44 win to end a five-game slide.
"I think it’s a sign of our toughness down the stretch," Hays High coach Kyle Porter said. "Something we’ve been continuously trying to improve throughout the year has been our mindset each game and playing one possession at a time and finding ways to win. You’re never out until the end, and I think our kids showed that tonight."
The Indians (5-12) ended the second quarter on a 16-3 run to take a 27-14 lead into the break and stayed in control for the most of the second half. Hays led 34-21 midway through the third quarter before Abilene unleashed the big run, which catapulted the Cowgirls to a 44-40 lead with 1:30 left.
Still down four, Hays missed two free throws with 38 seconds left, but Green grabbed the offensive rebound off the second miss and found Nunnery for a layup.
After an Abilene turnover, Green again came up big on the offensive glass, cleaning up a missed layup and making the putback while getting fouled with 10.9 seconds left. Green banked in the free throw to give HHS a 45-44 lead.
"Re played really hard," Porter said. "Her role is to get offensive rebounds, to use her athleticism to attack the glass. That’s what happened on that play — an offensive rebound putback, going up strong through contact. That’s what she does well, and something we’ve really pushed her to continue to do."
Following another Abilene turnover, Brooklyn Schaffer hit two free throws with five seconds left to push the Indians’ lead to three, and the Cowgirls didn’t get a shot off in the closing seconds.
Nunnery enjoyed one of the best games of her career, finishing with 21 points.
"Tasiah played really well," Porter said. "Played with a lot of effort defensively, and I think that led to some energy on the offensive end. Her defense kind of fed into her offense. We were really happy with how she played and hope she finishes her senior season playing like that."
Green and Schaffer added nine points each for the Indians. Abilene (5-12) was led by Abi Lillard’s 14 points, while Jenna Hayes added 12.
HAYS HIGH BOYS 56, ABILENE 46
The Hays High boys got the signature win they were searching for, using key plays down the stretch to outlast the Cowboys, who are ranked seventh in Class 4A.
"We needed to get a good win," HHS coach Alex Hutchins said. "We feel, when we look at our schedule, we’ve lost to good teams. We don’t really have any losses that you look at and go, ‘Oh my gosh, how did we lose to that team?’ But we didn’t feel like we had enough wins that were standout or impressive wins.
"It was time to start adding some of those to the resume."
The Indians (11-6) used defense to get it done, coming up with several key stops down the stretch.
"I thought our guys did a good job of being intense and focused on defense, but at the same time being patient," Hutchins said. "Abilene likes to run a lot of sets. They work for the shot that they want, and they know the shot that they want and they’ll spend as much time as it takes to get that shot.
"Sometimes as a defender, it’s hard to guard the ball and be intense and be locked in on defense, but at the same time, not go for steals, not jump in the passing lanes and not gamble. I thought our guys did a really good job of walking that line and balancing the two."
The game was tied at 38 early in the fourth quarter before a T.J. Nunnery bucket started a 6-0 spurt for Hays High. Jason Krannawitter later hit a big 3-pointer to put the Indians up 48-41 with 3:19 left, and Abilene (11-6) never got closer than four the rest of the way.
Sophomore post player Jace Linenberger came up big off the bench, leading the Indians with 12 points.
"We knew they were a team that wants to try and dominate inside, just like we do," Hutchins said of the Cowboys. "They’re one of the few teams that we play that does match up with us sizewise… Jace was the one that cracked the code a little bit and got some shots and got some things going for us."
Krannawitter and Dylan Ruder added 11 and 10 points, respectively, while Dalyn Schwarz chipped in 10.
Hays High will play host to Garden City on Friday.