Tigers return to action at Missouri Southern

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News
Fort Hays State's Jessie Sallach looks to score in the post last Thursday against Northwest Missouri State.

No game is set in stone in the 2020-21 season, but having a contest called off just a few hours before tipoff came as a jolt for the Fort Hays State women's basketball team. 

The Tigers were gearing up for a Saturday afternoon contest with Missouri Western when they received word that morning that the Griffons would have to postpone because of COVID-19 protocols. 

"It's just kind of a deflator," FHSU coach Tony Hobson said. "You got your full squad back finally after a few weeks and you're playing well. You're just ready to keep going and keep playing and kind of go with momentum."

The women's game versus Missouri Western has been rescheduled for Feb. 8, putting the Tigers back on track to play 22 games despite seeing several schedule alterations throughout the season. 

The season has been just as unpredictable as anticipated heading into the year. 

"Strange is probably the way to describe it, just because you're holding your breath around every corner," Hobson said. "It's either you're worried about your team being healthy to play and passing tests, or the team that you're playing, or the team that you've played in the past. Or you're worried about Christmas or kids being exposed with the food service or the dorms. 

"There's just never been a comfortable feeling where you get settled in and playing in the season and preparing for games."

FHSU's Quinten Rock passes off the ball last Thursday against Northwest Missouri.

Fort Hays (7-2) will look to get back into the swing of things against Missouri Southern (4-6) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Joplin. 

The Tigers are coming off a 74-49 rout of Northwest Missouri State last Thursday. 

Olivia Hollenbeck and Jessie Sallach have provided a boost inside for the Tigers as of late. The freshman post players have combined for 49 points over the last two games.

The Tigers have been rotating Hollenbeck and Sallach in the post. Hollenbeck, a 6-foot-3 Lincoln, Neb., native, averages 8 points while Sallach, a 6-1 Calloway, Neb., native, averages 5 points off the bench. 

"I just think any time you can put pressure on the other team from the low block, it just adds another dimension, which earlier in the year we hadn't had," Hobson said. "They continue to get better. They're hard workers and they're willing to be coached and they learn. They should continue to improve."

Missouri Southern enters on a three-game skid. The Lions took a 73-62 loss at Emporia State on Saturday. 

Carley Turnball leads Southern with 15.1 points per game. 

Hobson said the Lions will present some problems. 

"Southern is an issue," Hobson said. "They're just way better than their record.

"They've had some tough losses. They're rough, they really guard you well. It will be a tough game for us on Thursday, because it's a road game and their experienced and they have size."

Tiger men look to end skid

The Tiger men also ended up with Saturday off after Missouri Western announced on Friday that the game would have to be postponed because of COVID-19 issues with the Griffons. 

A short break wasn't a terrible thing for the Tigers, who have played this season short-handed because of injuries. 

"Our guys obviously want to play, but I wouldn't say it came at the worst time ever," FHSU coach Mark Johnson said of Saturday's postponement. "I feel like we're a tired team a little bit as we come back from Christmas; we've been going at it pretty hard. The extra days off probably did ourselves some good. I think Jared (Vitztum) and some of these guys that are playing so many minutes are getting worn down. Hopefully we use it as a positive and we're a little fresher going into this week."

The Tigers (3-7) put together an upset bid against Northwest Missouri last Thursday, but the No. 3-ranked Bearcats pulled away late for a 64-51 victory. 

FHSU, now on a four-game losing streak, struggled from the field against Northwest, going 19 of 54. 

"I always tell our guys, most games you can win with just great effort, toughness and intelligence," Johnson said. "Then you have a handful of games every year with an opponent where you're going to have to make some shots on top of that. To beat Northwest, you got to do all the things we talk about and then shoot it pretty well that night for you to pull off the win. We just couldn't do that last part. I thought we did every thing possible, except being able to put the ball in the basket."

Johnson said the Tigers are still hoping injured guards Nyjee Wright and Gabe Pieschl can be cleared to play before the end of the season. Pieschl, a redshirt sophomore from Marysville is out with an ankle injury, but he suited up for the Northwest game. 

"He wanted to suit up. He's itching (to play) but hasn't got the full release," Johnson said. "You hope he's getting closer. Obviously, too, even when he gets out there it's not necessarily going to be pretty; it's been a long time since he's been able to go live. We'd like to, hopefully in the next week or two, be able to put him in a game or two and build it up a little bit."

Wright, the Tigers' starting point guard last year, is still recovering from surgery on a broken foot he suffered in the pre-season. 

The Tigers will face Missouri Southern (5-5) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Joplin, Mo. 

Missouri Southern 6-foot-9 senior forward Cam Martin is having another monster year for the Lions. He averages 25.1 points and 8.7 rebounds. 

"There's a lot of really good players (in the MIAA), but we really don't face this kind of kid at our level very often," Johnson said. "The guy is 6-9. This year he's shooting (42%) from 3. Down low, he's just a different level player."

Winston Dessesow and Stan Scott average 12.8 and 12.7, respectively, for the Lions, who are coming off a 75-64 win over Emporia State. 

"You got to do a good enough job trying to keep (Martin) in the 20s without letting these other guys just blow you up," Johnson said.

Saturday's postponed game for the Tiger men with Missouri Western has been rescheduled for Feb. 23.