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Carson Kieffer's buzzer-beater completes monster rally for Hays High

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News

Salina Central gave the top-ranked Hays High boys the most adversity they had seen this season, putting the unbeaten Indians on the ropes by halftime on Friday. 

Hays High junior Carson Kieffer picks up his dribble before gliding to the basket for a buzzer-beating layup on Friday at Salina Central.
Carson Kieffer is mobbed by teammates after hitting a game-winning layup in Friday's 47-46 win over Salina Central.

Hays High was out of sorts on both ends of the floor in the first half and trailed by a staggering 32-13 margin at the break. 

"We kind of took a haymaker to the jaw and we were stumbling," Hays coach Alex Hutchins said. 

But the Indians avoided the knockout blow and had just barely enough time to notch a monster rally. 

The comeback was completed in thrilling fashion, with Carson Kieffer driving almost the length of the court and flipping in a layup just before time expired to lift the Indians to a 47-46 win at HHS. 

Reed McHenry hit 1 of 2 free throws with 10 seconds left to put the Mustangs in front by a point. Hays called timeout and drew up a play for its junior point guard, who found a driving lane around the right side and laid it in with his left hand.

"Jace (Linenberger) was setting me a screen at the top of the key to get to my right hand," Kieffer said. "Dalyn (Schwarz) was sealing back-side block. It wasn't there, so I just took it around the defender and got the lay."

"I'm honestly more comfortable with my left (hand) finishing," he added. "It was there, so I took it."

Kieffer's layup went through the net with just under two seconds left, preventing the Mustangs enough time to inbound. 

"Carson does a great job of making the defense pay for whatever is there," Hutchins said. "Really the thought process was, 'Get Carson the ball, try to get him a screen out high to get him a little separation, and either he's going to get himself a bucket or get one of the other four guys on the floor a bucket.' "

The Mustangs (4-8) had led for every second up to that point. They stormed out of the gate to take a 19-6 lead by the end of the first quarter before outscoring Hays 13-7 in the second frame to take a 19-point advantage into the locker room. 

"We were just playing soft, is what coach said," Kieffer said. "We just needed to be strong and lock in on them defensively."

The Indians knew they had no time to waste in getting the comeback started in the second half.

"What I was concerned about was: Did we wait too long, did we let them get too far away," Hutchins said. "We've had some ones where we come back from nine, or we come back from 12. 

"But against against a team like that, that is perfectly comfortably playing a slow-paced, low-scoring game — they're willing to grind on both ends of the court — 19 is a lot. We were a little nervous at halftime that we had gotten too far away."

Kieffer and T.J. Nunnery opened the third with back-to-back 3s to take the lid off the basket for Hays. Nunnery hit another 3 in the frame to pull the Indians within nine. 

"T.J kind of was the one that jolted us back to life and gave us a little bit of a energy," Hutchins said. "And Jason (Krannawitter) hit another 3, too. There was a whole lot of people playing a role (in the comeback) and T.J. was probably the catalyst at the beginning of the second half."

Hays whittled the lead down to six heading to the fourth quarter. Central led by nine after a bucket by McHenry with 6:12 left, but Hays went on a 9-0 run and tied it up at 45 with 53 seconds remaining on two free throws by Schwarz. McHenry was then fouled on a hard drive to the basket and hit the second of two foul shots to give Central the lead before Kieffer's buzzer-beater. 

"We really hadn't had any of these moments, any adversity, so this was good," Hutchins said. "The guys did a good job of gathering themselves and bouncing back."

Schwarz led Hays with 16 while Linenberger added 11. 

McHenry scored a game-high 26 and was joined in double figures by Nolan Puckett's 12 points for Central. 

Salina Central girls 64, Hays 43 

The Hays High girls hung in there early with Salina Central, ranked No. 5 in Class 5A, but Aubrie Kierscht and company were too much for the Indians. 

Kierscht poured in 28 points for the Mustangs, while Chaliscia Samilton added a career-high 14 points, and Mykayla Cunningham was outstanding defensively as the Mustangs improved to 10-2 on the season. 

Central led 33-23 at halftime before breaking it open with a 16-6 third quarter to pull away from Hays (4-9).

"I think in society today we judge growth by wins and losses when it comes to athletic competition," Hays High coach Len Melvin said. "We really want the girls to understand that is not how we determine if we're getting better.

"I thought first half there were moments where we looked like we were a decent basketball team. We lost shooters a couple times and they made us pay for it, but we had some really good moments. We were really proud of the girls' effort."

One of the bright spots for the Indians was freshman Jillyan Sheldon, who scored eight points in just her second varsity game. 

Hays High's Jersey Johnson tries to shoot over Salina Central's Harper Williams during Friday's game at HHS.

"Our message to Jillyan is we don't want you to feel any pressure," Melvin said. "We just want you to have fun. She's really playing pretty well. She's not afraid to get in there. We're proud of Jillyan, and she's going to grow into a nice player."

Jersey Johnson and Morgan Engel each scored 10 for Hays, while Carly Lang added nine.