By BRETT MARSHALL
It didn't seem to matter that the Garden City Lady Buffaloes basketball team had swept through the Western Athletic Conference season unbeaten at 8-0, and that the Dodge City Lady Red Demons finished next-to-last with a 1-6 record.
Nor did it matter that the Lady Buffaloes were 17-3 overall at the conclusion of the regular season, having completed the most successful campaign in school history. It didn't even matter that the Lady Demons had won just five games, losing 14 during the regular season, including two 20-plus point losses (60-37, 60-38) to the same Lady Buffs.
Nope. None of that mattered Thursday night at the New Garden when the two rival schools met for the third time this season, this one a Class 6A sub-state semifinal to determine who would take on No. 2 seed Maize, a 47-32 winner over Campus, in Saturday's championship for a chance to go to state.
Last, but not least, it mattered not one iota that the Lady Buffs had not lost in their new home all season, going 9-0.
All that mattered in the end, really, is that Dodge City somehow came up with its best game of the season, while the Lady Buffs had perhaps their most dismal effort, and the result was a crushing 37-36 loss to the Lady Demons.
The Lady Demons take their 6-14 record to Maize on Saturday, while the Lady Buffs finish at 17-4.
And while Garden City coach David Upton was certainly having a difficult time coming up with an explanation, Dodge City coach Kelley Snodgrass, who had coached the previous six seasons at Holcomb, said her game plan was carried out to near-perfection.
"It's tough to play a team three times, and Garden's a great team," said Snodgrass, who had coached Holcomb a year ago in a 57-56 overtime loss against most of the same Garden City players. "Our girls worked hard and we just had to slow the game down and keep Garden from getting in its up-tempo game. I thought our guards took good care of the ball in transition, and I couldn't be more proud of my girls."
For Upton, it was digesting the game statistics and then shaking his head in near disbelief.
He had just watched his team shoot 17-of-46 from the field (36.9 percent), 1-of-6 from the 3-point range (16.6 percent) and most stunning, a 1-of-10 free throw performance. Dodge, meanwhile, hit a respectable 43.7 percent from the field, 5-of-12 from behind the arc and were 4-of-5 at the charity stripe.
To make things worse, the shorter Lady Demons won the rebounding battle, just barely, at 28-27. The only stat that didn't favor the Lady Demons was turnovers, where they had 17 to 12 for the Lady Buffs.
"I'd said earlier that anytime you have to play a team a third time, I just hate to have that third game," Upton said. "We didn't match their energy, and it just looked like they wanted it more than we did. To be blunt, I think we were complacent."
The slower pace from the outset put the Lady Demons right where Snodgrass wanted them to be, leading 7-6 after one quarter.
Garden City made a good run through the second period in building a 19-11 halftime lead and expanded that to 25-14 early in the third. But Dodge hung around and pulled to within 29-23 at the end of the third period, finishing the quarter on a 9-4 run.
After moving back out to an eight-point lead with 4:37 remaining when Johna McClelland's off-balance shot went in, the Buffs seemed to slow to a snail's pace. That allowed Dodge to reel off seven unanswered points, pulling to within one, 33-32, with 1:28 remaining.
McClelland drained an 8-footer in the lane with 1:11 showing, but then Jessica Harshberger knocked down a 12-foot baseline jumper with 0:59 showing to draw Dodge within 35-34. A critical turnover by the Buffs with 35 seconds left gave the Demons another chance, and they took advantage of it, this time when Ciera Lampe drilled a dagger into the Buffs with her third 3-pointer of the game with 23 seconds remaining, providing the Demons with a 37-35 lead.
Garden's Taryn Tempel, the lone double-figure scorer for the Buffs with 15, was fouled with nine seconds left and went to the stripe for a pair of free throws. She had struggled all night there (0-for-6 at the time) and she made the first, missed the second, making it 37-36. The Buffs were three fouls away from putting Dodge into the bonus and it proved to be the final undoing, as Dodge simply caught the ball three consecutive times inbounds to take mere ticks off the clock each time. By the time Dodge was able to go to the line for a 1-and-1, there were just 0:02.4 seconds left. Lampe missed, McClelland grabbed the rebound, heaved a halfcourt pass to Tempel who was unable to get off a potential game-winning shot before the buzzer.
Just like that, the Lady Buffs' glorious season was down the drain.
"I really felt when we had the lead and we had the clock in our favor that I wanted to pull them out of their zone," Upton said of his decision to go into a semi-delay. "We wanted to look for some cutters, but we missed some shots, we made bad passes to bad places on the court and you can't do that. Top to bottom, we didn't execute the way we had all season. And we paid a heavy price for that.
"There were times where it looked like we were playing not to lose, rather than playing to win, and you just can't do that. This game hurts, and it hurts for the girls. They've been great all season and it hurts to see it end this way for them."
McClelland is the lone senior on the roster, and the Washburn-bound 6-3 post player, finished with eight points and six rebounds.
Lampe scored 11 points to pace the Lady Demons.
Dodge City 7 4 12 14 -- 37
Garden City 6 13 10 7 -- 36
Dodge City (37) — Pike 3-3 0-0 6, Wilson 0-2 0-0 0, Sain 0-3 0-0 0, Sanchez 2-6 3-4 8, Harshberger 3-4 0-0 6, Roenfeldt 2-6 1-1 6, Lampe 4-8 0-0 11. Totals 14-32 4-5 37.
Garden City (36) — McClelland 4-11 0-2 8, Padilla 0-2 0-0 0, Linenberger 0-1 0-0 0, Carrillo 0-0 0-0 0, Tornero 2-4 0-0 5, Brunson 0-1 0-0 0, Tempel 7-13 1-8 15, McKee 2-5 0-0 4, Bernbeck 2-9 0-0 4. Totals 17-46 1-10 36.
3-point goals--Dodge City 5-12 (Wilson 0-1, Sain 0-2, Sanchez 1-2, Roenfeld 1-2, Lampe 3-5), Garden City 1-6 (Padilla 0-1, Tornero 1-2, Brunson 0-1, Tempel 0-2). Rebounds--Dodge City 28 (Sanchez 9), Garden City 27 (McClelland 6). Turnovers--Dodge City 17, Garden City 12. Fouls--Dodge City 13, Garden City 13. Fouled out--none.