By BRETT MARSHALL
HAYS — With 3 minutes, 35 seconds left in the first half of Saturday night's Hays City Shootout boys championship game, Garden City Buffaloes coach Jacy Holloway looked warily at the scoreboard.
What he saw provided the fourth-year GCHS coach a level of worry that he had experienced last season when the Buffs were blown out by the Indians in a Western Athletic Conference battle on the Indians' home court.
That's because when he scanned the clock, Hays had just rattled off nine unanswered points and were in complete command of the game by doubling the Buffs' score, 30-15.
But unlike the 2012-13 version of road kill, the Buffs responded with a second-half rally, only to come up just short of toppling the heavily favored Indians, falling 57-53.
"The effort was much, much better than it had been in the first two games," Holloway said afterward. "I thought we had a focused effort after we had gotten out of control against their press in the first half."
Indeed, the Buffs were guilty of 14 first-half miscues, but committed only four in the final 16 minutes.
When the Buffs had erased nearly all of an early third quarter Hays lead of 39-22, HHS coach Rick Keltner called timeout to interrupt a Garden City run of its own.
Mitchell Hernandez was the ringleader of the scoring rally, hitting for 10 of his team-high 14 points in the second half, with three of them coming on 3-point buckets.
"I thought we did a better job of finding Mitch for his shots, and he did a better job of putting himself into those positions where we want him," Holloway said.
Tristan Nanninga started the long road to a comeback with a driving layup, Hernandez canned the first trey, followed by a Caleb Tramp baseline jumper and a long-range three by Hunter Delgado, slicing the deficit to 39-32.
Hays built the lead back to 12, 44-32, before the Buffs closed out the third period on a 5-1 run to trail 45-37 heading to the fourth.
A pair of 3-point daggers from Lane Clark kept the Indians in front, but Hernandez answered with two of his own. A 9-4 edge over the next three minutes brought the Buffs to within three, 56-53, at the 1:49 mark, but that was as close as they could get.
Hays could have iced the win, but the Indians missed their final seven free throws.
"Coming into the game, I think Hays had the impression that they would walk all over us," Holloway said. "We didn't play as well in the first two games, but I thought we made some strides tonight."
The Buffs also won the rebounding battle against the taller Indians, owning a 33-25 edge on the boards. Luis Rodriguez led the way with nine.
Garden's scoring was paced by Hernandez'14 while Nanninga and Tramp added 13 and 10. Foul woes plagued the Buffs, too, as Delgado, Tramp and Emilio Parr all fouled out in the fourth. The foul disparity (23 to 15) provided Hays with 29 charity attempts to just 11 for the Buffs.
"Nobody likes to lose, but playing like we did definitely puts us on the upswing," Holloway said. "Fouls are an issue that we need to fix. We're out of position, and then we try to use our athleticism and we're giving up cheap fouls."
The Buffs get a few days to work out the kinks of three games in three days as they prep for the Clarion Inn Southwest Classic, which tips off on Thursday. The Buffs will host Wichita Trinity on Thursday, Denver South on Friday and Pueblo (Colo.) East on Saturday. All three games are 7:45 p.m. contests at The Garden. That will conclude the pre-holiday schedule for the Buffs.
Garden City 10 12 15 16 -- 53
Hays High 19 18 9 12 -- 57
Garden City (2-1) — Delgado 1-2 0-0 3, Olivas 0-1 0-0 0, Koster 3-4 0-0 7, Hernandez 4-6 3-4 14, Nanninga 6-12 1-3 13, Zapata 1-1 0-0 2, Parr 0-0 2-2 2, Love 0-0 0-0 0, Rincones 0-1 0-0 0, Rodriguez 1-7 0-0 2, Tramp 4-6 2-2 10, Gurrola 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-41 8-11 53.
Hays High (3-0) — Niernberger 1-4 0-2 2, Nunnery 3-4 1-5 7, Riedel 1-2 1-2 3, Hobson 0-1 0-0 0, Windholz 3-8 1-3 9, Clark 4-9 6-6 18, Rounkles 0-0 1-2 1, Werth 5-6 0-5 10, Parker 0-1 1-4 1, Berens 2-5 1-4 5. Totals 19-40 13-33 57.
3-point goals--Garden City 5-10 (Delgado 1-2, Olivas 0-1, Koster 1-1, Hernandez 3-5, Rincones 0-1); Hays 6-13 (Windholz 2-7, Clark 4-6). Rebounds--Garden City 33 (Rodriguez 9), Hays 25 (Werth 6). Turnovers--Garden City 18, Hays 11. Fouls--Garden City 23, Hays 15. Fouled out--Garden City (Delgado, Parr, Tramp).