Hays High's bid for perfect season ends with quarterfinal loss to Topeka West

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News
Carson Kieffer puts up a floater during Tuesday's Class 5A quarterfinal against Topeka West.
Hays High's Jace Linenberger pulls down a rebound in Tuesday's quarterfinal loss to Topeka West.

Dalyn Schwarz has been Hays High's best problem-solver against a good zone defense, and he figured to be key a weapon against Topeka West's unusual zone in Tuesday's Class 5A quarterfinal at Hays High. 

Unfortunately for the Indians, Schwarz rolled his ankle a minute and 11 seconds into the contest and had to be helped off the court. 

He returned in the final seconds of the first quarter and stuck it out for the rest of the way, but was hobbled by the injury and could only play limited minutes. 

Without their 6-foot-6 senior forward at full strength, the Indians struggled to solve West's zone in the second half and saw their bid for a perfect season end with a 52-49 loss to the Chargers, who snapped Hays High's 30-game winning streak. 

"He is our best player against a zone," Hays High coach Alex Hutchins said. "He's kind of a one-man wrecking crew at the high post. It speaks to his toughness and character that he continued to play and came back out after what did happen. But he was hobbled. He was not his normal self, and that's a huge blow to what we're trying to do.

"I'm proud of the way our guys continued to battle, but it wasn't normal for us trying to carve up the zone with that situation."

The Indians (22-1) went 13 of 16 from the field in the first half but found themselves up by just three at the break, 32-29.

West was fueled by its trio of standout guards in Trevion Alexander, Elijah Brooks and Marque Wilkerson. The three combined for 46 points for the Chargers, who were making their first state appearance since 2010. 

Hays High was held to six points in the third quarter. After West took a five-point lead, the Indians got it tied midway through the fourth on a 3-pointer from Carson Kieffer. 

West then grabbed the lead for good when sixth-man Xavier Alexander hit a 3-pointer to break the 47-all tie with 1:50 left.

The Indians missed three potential game-tying 3s over the last 1:15. After Kieffer missed a 3 in the corner with about 10 seconds left, Jace Linenberger's putback also missed and the ball was tipped out by Hays with 5.5 seconds left. 

West then hit two free throws to seal it and move to the 5A semis, where the Chargers (20-2) will meet De Soto (19-3) at 7 p.m. Friday at Emporia's White Auditorium. 

"The combination of their athleticism and the zone that they play presents a lot of problems for us," Hutchins. "It's evident that we were a better team against man this year than we were against zone. Their zone is just a little different because of the athletes. And honestly their transition offense off of the zone is as big of a factor and threat than anything. 

"Their zone is hard to score on, but I think the scariest thing about the zone is a long rebound or a turnover turns into a basket for them almost every time. That really hurt us in the second half."

West coach Rick Bloomquist's aggressive "amoeba" defense uses a guard to defend the high post. 

"Tonight we found something that worked, because I don't think we could have matched up with them man to man," Bloomquist said. 

Like Hays, West also had bad injury luck when Brooks left early in the fourth quarter with a knee injury and was sidelined down the stretch. 

"When Elijah went down, we could have quit, we could have rolled over,” Bloomquist said. “We could’ve played dead, we could've said, 'woe is me,' but they played harder."

Linenberger wrapped up a big junior season with a game-high 24 points for the Indians. Kieffer and T.J. Nunnery each scored seven. Schwarz finished with just two points while battling the ankle injury. 

Bloomquist called Hays High a "very well-coached, very talented team.”

"Hays is a beautiful team, there's no question about it," he said. "I watched them on tape and it gave me nightmares. I watched another tape, and it gave me two nightmares. They're good, but I think we're good, too. 

"They posed matchup problems for us, but I think we posed matchups problems for them, as well. We tried to take advantage of the matchups."

It was a bitter end to one of the best seasons in Hays High program history and the final game for three Hays High seniors — Schwarz, Nunnery and Jason Krannawitter. All three played pivotal roles in the Indians' success over the last two years. Hays High was a final four team in 2020 before the rest of the tournament was called off because of COVID-19 concerns. 

The crowd gave the Indians a standing ovation at the end of the game. 

"This team didn't really have problems," Hutchins said. "We didn't have egos, we didn't have attitudes. They were coachable. They were unselfish.  They loved each other. They loved playing together. 

"That's just something for the rest of my career I hope I remember. I hope that I don't look back and feel like I took that for granted."