By BRETT MARSHALL
When a sports team has never achieved a significant goal, and puts itself in position to do just that, the journey there is never an easy one.
Garden City’s Lady Buffaloes basketball team discovered that Friday night at the New Garden against the Hays Lady Indians.
Trying to secure what is believed to be the program’s first Western Athletic Conference championship in basketball, the Lady Buffs struggled for much of the game before making a fourth-quarter rally to squeak past Hays, 47-43.
In doing so, the Lady Buffs remained unbeaten in the WAC at 7-0 with just Liberal coming to town on Tuesday for the regular season finale. They are now a program best 16-3 overall, and apparently headed to a No. 3 seed in the upcoming Class 6A sub-state tournament, assuring themselves of home court for at least one game.
Hays, last year’s WAC champion, slipped to 8-10 overall and 3-3 in the WAC.
On a night where not much went the way coach David Upton scripted it, the Lady Buffs somehow dug deep and came up with the victory.
“Everything important is worth fighting for, and the girls really came out in the second half and did the job in getting back in the game,” Upton said of his team after seeing them trail 22-16 at the half. “We made a concerted decision that if we were going to win, we had to become the aggressors and get more active. We looked lackadaisical in the first half and weren’t moving much.”
The Lady Buffs still trailed at 29-21 with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter before going on a 6-0 run to cut the lead to two. Hays, though, answered with 8 seconds on the clock on a layup by Megan Bird. Then, perhaps a turning point in the game, happened just before the buzzer sounded when junior Jacksenie Tornero lofted a 3-point desperation shot from just inside the halfcourt line and it swished through, cutting the Lady Indians’ lead to 31-30 heading to the fourth.
“That might have been the biggest momentum switch of the second half,” said Hays coach Kirk Maska. “Garden’s got a good team, they were aggressive in the second half and we didn’t do a good job of handling that. We turned it over way too many times to put ourselves in position to win.”
Garden didn’t grab the lead until the 4:55 mark of the fourth, when Kennedy Brunson knocked down a 3-point shot from the baseline corner. That made it 38-37, and while the lead was never safely tucked away, the Lady Buffs never trailed over the final four minutes.
“As poorly as we played in the first half, to be only down by six, I told the girls we just needed to come out and play our game,” Upton said of the second-half kick-start. “We haven’t been tested much, but we were tonight and I thought the girls really competed hard and played through the tough shooting night.”
Free throws played a big role in the victory as the Lady Buffs cashed in 18-of-27 at the charity stripe while Hays was only 4-of-8. The Lady Indians were 17-of-41 from the field (41.4 percent) while the Lady Buffs were chilly at 13-of-44 (29.5 percent).
“We decided to roll the dice in the second half and came out with the fullcourt press,” Upton said. “It worked. We got Hays hurried up and they fell apart. We got more aggressive and that’s something we didn’t have in the first half.”
Neither team was particularly hitting on the shooting cylinders at the game’s outset.
While Hays was just 3-of-9 (33 percent), the Lady Buffs weren’t much better, connecting on just 4-of-14 from the field (28.5 percent) in the first.
Things didn’t improve for the Lady Buffs, but they sure did for the Lady Indians when the second quarter got under way.
Hays went on a 10-2 run to begin the stanza, surging to an 18-10 lead. The teams exchanged buckets the rest of the way, with Taryn Tempel hitting a follow shot in the lane with 10 seconds left in the half, cutting the deficit to 22-16.
But, as they had in the first, the Lady Buffs couldn’t find the shooting touch, going only 3-of-11, making it just 7-of-25 for the half (28 percent). Hays, meanwhile, warmed up by connecting on five of its six shots (83.3 percent). The only thing that kept the score closer was five turnovers by the Lady Indians, three of those in the final two minutes.
McClelland had six points in the first half while Bernbeck and Tempel managed just four and three points, respectively. Hays got seven points from its season-leading scorer, Katelyn Schumacher, at the break.
For the game, Bernbeck was the lone double-figure scorer for the Lady Buffs, finishing with 11. Tempel followed with nine, while Johna McClelland and Tornero added eight each.
Hays was led by Schumacher, who finished with 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for a double-double. The Lady Indians had a 36-27 rebounding edge, as McClelland topped Garden City’s board work with eight. Hays, though, committed 23 turnovers to just 13 for the Lady Buffs.
Notes: The Lady Buffs were playing without junior starting guard Tionna McKee. The 5-6 McKee injured her knee in Tuesday’s win at Dodge City, and her status for the remainder of the season is unknown.
Hays HIgh 8 14 9 12 — 43
Garden City 8 8 14 17 — 47
Hays High (43) — Gagnon 2-7 0-0 4, Herman 1-5 1-4 3, Johnson 2-4 0-0 5, Gulley 1-2 0-0 2, Bird 3-4 0-0 7, Braun 1-2 0-0 2, Schumacher 7-17 3-4 17. Totals 17-41 4-8 43.
Garden City (47) — McClelland 4-12 0-0 8, Padilla 1-1 0-0 3, Linenberger 0-1 0-0 0, Carrillo 1-2 1-2 3, Tornero 1-4 5-6 8, Brunson 1-3 2-2 5, Tempel 2-12 5-7 9, Bernbeck 3-9 5-10 11. Totals 13-44 18-27 47.
3-point goals—Hays 2-3 (Johnson 1-1, Gulley 0-1, Bird 1-1), Garden City 3-10 (McClelland 0-1, Padilla 1-1, Tornero 1-3, Brunson 1-2, Tempel 0-3). Rebounds—Hays 36 (Schumacher 10), Garden City 27 (McClelland 8). Turnovers—Hays 23, Garden City 13. Fouls—Hays 19, Garden City 11. Fouled out—Hays (Bird).