By KEVIN THOMPSON
If Dighton had won its semifinal game on Friday, it would have been guaranteed a trophy to commemorate one of the top-two finishes in the state Class 1A Division II tournament.
Instead, after losing by three points to eventual champion Baileyville B&B, the Lady Hornets had to come back Saturday and earn a trophy.
And they did with a 45-33 win over Bucklin in the third-place game.
After bowing out in the first round of last year's tournament at Gross Memorial Coliseum in Hays, Dighton wanted to make the most of this year's appearance.
Following the loss Friday night, coach Amy Felker said her team asked to go out and eat supper and talk about the game, how hard a loss it was, and what they needed to do Saturday.
A tight-knit group, they started feeling more relaxed and upbeat, she said, and that transferred to the third-place game.
"They were ready to go. They wanted to get the third-place trophy, and they wanted to come out on a winning note," she said. "They basically did it by themselves, pulling each other up and supporting each other."
Dighton took a 13-7 lead after the opening quarter, holding the Aces to 3-of-13 shooting, but a pair of 3s and stingy defense for Bucklin tied the game at 19 going into halftime.
After that, it was all Dighton, as the Hornets sank 11 free throws and limited Bucklin to 4-of-28 shooting in the second half to take home the third-place trophy.
Senior Leslie Speer led the Hornets with 14 points, while her sister, freshman Jordan, added 11.
Dighton shot 40 percent from the floor (15 of 38), while Bucklin was just 21 percent (11 for 51).
The Aces were just 5 of 26 from behind the arc (4 of 17 in the second half).
Defense was key in getting this win, Felker said.
"They worked hard, and they played great defense, which has been our strength all year," Felker said. "I just couldn't be prouder of them. Everybody knows what their job is on defense. They just get it all together and play as one unit."
Rebounds were also key to the Hornets' win as they pulled down 33 boards to Bucklins' 26.
"That's really key," Felker said. "If you can keep them off the boards and keep them from getting second-shot opportunities, it's always good."
Whatever Bucklin (21-5) threw at her team, she said, her girls stayed calm.
"We adjusted to whatever defense they put on us," Felker said. "We were really patient, looking for the good shot and not rushing things."
Morgan Hood had 15 points and Janae Price 12 to lead Bucklin, but the two were just a combined 9 of 33 from the floor, accounting for all but two of the Aces' field goals.
Dighton (19-6), finished the regular season ranked fourth in Class 1A-II. They defeated No. 9 Argonia in the opening round of the state event, fell to the No. 1 team Friday, and took out No. 7 Bucklin.
During the season, they also knocked off ranked division opponents Golden Plains (No. 2) and Wallace County (No. 10) twice, losing only to No. 6 Ingalls by three points.
That says a lot about this group of Hornets, Felker said, but also made it tougher to not reach the finals this past weekend.
"It was hard when your ultimate goal was to be in that championship game and you get so close," she said. "It's hard get up for that third- and fourth-place game. You're physically exhausted because you left everything on the court. But they pulled it together, especially the seniors. They wanted to end the season on a positive note."
It was the way her team responded after Friday's loss that will be indelible in Felker's memory, something she'll be reminded of whenever she walks past the trophy case at Dighton High School.
"It's a great way for our (four) seniors to go out. They worked hard for that," she said. "Now they can see it every time they come back home."
For the younger players, she added, it's inspirational, sending the message that teamwork and hard work along with offseason work can get a team back to the state tournament.
Bucklin 7 12 8 6 -- 33
Dighton 13 6 13 13 -- 45
Bucklin (21-5)--Demoret 0-2, 0-0 0, Price 4-20 3-6 12, Hood 5-13 20 15, Austin 1-1 0-0 2, Rudd 1-11 0-0 3, Long 0-4 1-2 1. Totals 11-51 6-10 26.
Dighton (19-6)--Brown 1-4, 4-4 6, K. Budd 2-3, 0-0 5, Heath 2-4, 1-3 5, L. Speer 5-14 4-4 14, S. Budd 0-2 2-3 2, Cramer 1-1 0-0 2, J. Speer 4-8 3-5 11. Totals 15-38 14-19 45.
3-point goals--Bucklin 5-26 (Price 1-8, Hood 3-9, Rudd 1-8, Long 0-1), Dighton 1-5 (K. Budd 1-3, S. Budd 0-2). Rebounds--Bucklin 26 (Price 9), Dighton 33 (Heath 7, L. Speer 7, J. Speer 7). Turnovers--Bucklin 8, Dighton 11. Fouled out--Austin. Total fouls--Bucklin 18, Dighton 13. Technical fouls--none.