Undefeated Hays High captures sub-state title with 61-48 win over Salina South
Undefeated and top-ranked, the Hays High boys still felt they had something to prove heading into Saturday's Class 5A sub-state final against Salina South.
For one, the Cougars beat the Indians thoroughly when they met up last season.
Also, South entered Saturday with just four losses against one of the toughest schedules in the state, providing the Indians with undoubtedly their biggest test of the season.
"I really felt like today was a bit of a judgment day," Hays High coach Alex Hutchins said.
The Indians met the moment, using a dominant fourth quarter to pull away from South for a 61-48 victory at Hays High.
"We wanted to show everyone what we got and that we're better than what people think," Hays High junior Jace Linenberger said. "It's not just an easy schedule."
Hays moved to 22-0 and will host a Class 5A quarterfinal against Topeka West at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The Indians advanced to the state tournament for the second straight year after seeing last year's postseason run end prematurely in the final four when the rest of the tournament was cancelled.
“This is an awesome experience, and we are going to soak up and enjoy every moment of it,” Hutchins said.
Linenberger and Dalyn Schwarz hurt the Cougars inside, combing for 33 points. Hays finished without a 3-pointer, opting to keep feeding their posts.
"I did think that we would need to shoot the ball well from outside," Hutchins said. "But I thought our guys did a pretty good job of recognizing early that we were having success inside, and they continued to attack."
"We've been shooting the ball pretty well lately, but if they're not going to fall, we can find other ways to score," Schwarz said.
South led 30-28 after a back-and-forth first half that ended with Linenberger picking up his third foul on a 3-point attempt at the buzzer by Kade Barber, who hit two of the three free throws.
Linenberger was then whistled for his fourth foul with 6:01 left in the third, which could have been a game-changer.
But Schwarz had eight points in the third frame and Linenberger returned at the start of the fourth with South clinging to a 39-38 lead.
"He stepped up big time," Linenberger said of Schwarz. "Big part of the win. Played huge."
"Dalyn is always a steadying force for us, especially in tough times or big moments," Hutchins added.
With both bigs on the floor, Hays dominated the final frame, outscoring the Cougars 23-9.
“They both played excellent,” Salina South coach Jason Hooper said of Schwarz and Linenberger. “I knew they were solid. I think they were a little stronger than I thought they were. (Hays') guards are really good at finding them in the right spots and giving them the ball in the right positions to do something with it."
Hutchins said he didn't hesitate to put Linenberger back in to start the fourth with the four fouls.
"Really the mindset is just trusting our players and giving them the opportunity to go settle it in on the court," Hutchins said. "I'd rather Jace go out there and pick up a fifth foul playing hard than waste his minutes on the bench."
The Cougars took what turned out to be their final lead of the game on a bucket from Colin Schreiber with 5:22 left. T.J. Nunnery then hit two free throws for the Indians, starting a 9-0 run that was capped by a layup from Carson Kieffer to put Hays up 52-43 with 2:36 left.
The Indians (22-0) went 11 of 14 from the foul line in the fourth to help ice it.
“It was back and forth, nip and tuck, and they made a couple plays mid-fourth quarter to get that little bit of lead," Hooper said. "When we had to foul, they just didn’t miss any free throws. You’ve got to give them a ton of credit."
Linenberger finished with 18, followed by Schwarz with 15, Kieffer with 12 and Nunnery with 10.
Devon Junghans led the Cougars with 17 points while A.J. Johnson added 13.
Topeka West advanced to the quarterfinals with a 55-52 win over Topeka Seaman. The Indians will take a 30-game winning streak into Tuesday's game with the Chargers at HHS.