By BRETT MARSHALL
LIBERAL — Tuesday night, unlike in Friday's and Saturday's games, the Garden City High School Lady Buffaloes didn't wait until the fourth quarter get their offense in gear.
After a sluggish first quarter, the Lady Buffs took off and the result was a dominating 59-26 victory over the Liberal Lady Redskins at the LHS Gymnasium.
The victory improves the Lady Buffs to 8-1 overall and 3-0 in the Western Athletic Conference, and now awaiting them is a Friday date with the Hays High Lady Indians, the defending league champions.
"I thought we came out in the second quarter and started moving the ball a lot better, looking for each other," GCHS coach David Upton said. "But I really thought the key tonight was our defense. To hold a team to 26 points in 32 minutes, I thought the girls were really putting forth the effort out there to deny them the ball."
The Lady Buffs especially had their hands full with LHS junior Jai Chapman, generally regarded as the top player in the WAC. As many as four different players, sometimes more, traded off guarding the 5-7 guard, and she still managed to knock down 16 points.
"She's a terrific player, but I really thought we got her rattled by putting different people on her," Upton said. "We gave her different looks, and kept people fresh, and I thought we wore her down some, too."
Chapman got 14 of her points in the final half, and by then the game was well in hand for Garden City.
Five different players scored for the Lady Buffs in a pivotal second quarter when they went on a 17-7 run, moving from an 8-5 lead into a commanding 25-12 halftime advantage.
"I thought the girls did a great job of looking for one another, sharing the ball and playing unselfishly," Upton said. "They did a great job of executing against a change of defenses by Liberal. Those are things we don't usually practice against."
All nine players who saw action scored, with junior guard Jacksenie Tornero leading the way with 12 points, all coming on four 3-pointers. She attempted five treys in the game.
"I told the girls in the locker room to give her a big hand," Upton said of Tornero. "She's really starting to look for her shot, and that's going to be big for us down the stretch."
Tornero was joined in double figures by Johna McClelland and Taryn Tempel with 10 points each. McClelland got all of her points in the second half and had a double-double by pulling down a game-high 10 boards.
Third quarter action more resembled the opening quarter as the Lady Buffs held just a slender 12-9 scoring edge to increase the lead to 37-21. It was another big fourth, though, for Upton's squad.
Using a swarming fullcourt press, mixing both man and zone, the Lady Buffs outscored Liberal 22-5 to win in a breeze.
"From here on, every game gets tougher," Upton said, emphasizing the Friday showdown with Hays. "It's a big one, and one we're looking forward to. It's gonna be a fight, but I think we're ready for it."
The start for both teams was not memorable by any means.
In the first quarter, which resulted in an 8-5 Garden City lead, the Lady Buffs were 3-of-13 from the field, the highlight being a pair of 3-pointers by Tornero. The Lady Redskins, meanwhile, were just 2-of-7 and committed nine turnovers.
The Lady Buffs finished the night hitting 22-of-50 field goals for 44 percent while Liberal was just 9-of-31.
Garden City 8 17 12 22 -- 59
Liberal 5 7 9 5 -- 26
Garden City (8-1, 3-0) — McClelland 4-7 2-2 10, Padilla 1-2 0-0 3, Linenberger 1-5 0-0 2, Carrillo 1-3 2-2 4, Tornero 4-5 0-0 12, Brunson 1-2 0-0 3, Tempel 4-8 2-5 10, McKee 3-7 1-2 7, Bernbeck 3-11 2-5 8. Totals 22-50 9-16 59.
Liberal (3-6, 0-2) — Ramirez 0-1 0-1 0, Hernandez 0-0 0-2 0, Collins 0-0 1-2 1, Sanchez 0-1 0-0 0, Chapman 5-11 4-4 16, Besecker 0-5 0-0 0, Long 1-2 1-2 3, Shelton 0-1 0-0 0, Regalado 1-5 0-2 2, Larkin 2-5 0-1 4. Totals 9-31 6-14 26.
3-point goals--Garden City 6-7 (Padilla 1-2, Tornero 4-4, Brunson 1-1), Liberal 2-12 (Chapman 2-7, Besecker 0-5). Rebounds--Garden City 32 (McClelland 10), Liberal 26 (Besecker 5). Turnovers--Garden City 9, Liberal 26. Fouls--Garden City 16, Liberal 14. Fouled out--none.