HUTCHINSON — Not a whole lot on paper separated Cheney and Phillipsburg going into Thursday’s Class 3A state quarterfinal at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
Both teams were 20-3 and played challenging schedules that included marquee wins.
The biggest difference, however, played out in a big way early and was the deciding factor in Cheney’s 66-53 victory.
Experience. Cheney had it, having played in the state championship game two of the last three seasons. Phillipsburg didn’t, making the first trip to state in program history.
"We talked about it, but said don’t expect it," Cheney coach Rod Scheer said. "But that punch right off the bat, it got us through the whole thing."
Phillipsburg had an early lead on a Taryn Sides 3-pointer, but Cheney strung together a pair of 9-2 runs to open up a 20-9 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Cardinal junior standout Kylee Scheer led the charge with nine first-quarter points and the Cardinals harassed Phillipsburg into six first-quarter turnovers and a 2-of-9 shooting performance.
"Cheney’s fast, they’re quick and it took awhile for our team to adjust," Phillipsburg coach Rachel Miller said. "You always say you don’t win or lose a game in one quarter, but I think we did. It hurt us."
Cheney maintained a double-digit lead throughout the second quarter and stretched it to 16 early in the third quarter as Hailey Jones capped a 7-0 run with back-to-back baskets to make it a 43-27 lead. A closing flurry that include five points from Scheer pushed Cheney’s lead to 54-36 after three quarters.
But Phillipsburg didn’t fold. After staying within touch in the first half thanks to a 15-of-17 performance at the free throw line, the Panthers finally found their full offensive rhythm in the fourth.
A Sides 3-pointer capped a 7-0 start to the fourth quarter and Phillipsburg slowly chipped away. A Kay Pakkebier basket cut the Cheney lead to single digits and an Ava Schemper 3-pointer with 2:06 left pulled Phillipsburg within 59-51.
"These girls are fighters and I knew they’d fight back," Miller said. "We could just never get over that hump, get it to five or less."
Scheer finished with 19 points, but Cheney got a huge lift from Lexi Cline, who scored a career-high 15 points. Cline was 8 of 8 at the free-throw line and also had four steals.
Sides, a freshman, was sensational for Phillipsburg, leading all scorers with 23 points. She was 4 of 9 from 3-point range and 7 of 8 on free throws as the Panthers finished 24 of 33 at the charity stripe for the game.
Despite the one-and-done trip, Miller said it was something that should fuel her team, which loses only three seniors.
"We’ve got a big core coming back and we know what we need to work on," Miller said. "This was our first time and to get there and know what it’s like, you should want that again. We’re going to have to show up and put in the time in the offseason, but they had a lot of fun and want to come back."