By BRETT MARSHALL
There's nothing more challenging for a basketball coach than to have his team prepare to play for a third-place game at a tournament.
Nobody knew that better than Ingalls' Roger Thurlow, who had to do just that for Saturday when his Lady Bulldogs met up with Wetmore after a devastating 51-50 semifinal loss to Hutchinson Central Christian on Friday night.
But Thurlow talked to his teary-eyed players after that heartbreaker and told them he wanted them to come back and play just as hard, stay just as focused as they had all season.
To their credit, the Lady Bulldogs did what their coach asked and as a result headed home from Hays' Busch Gross Coliseum with a third-place trophy following a convincing 55-42 victory over the Lady Cardinals.
"After what was a very tough loss, you don't know what to expect," Thurlow said Sunday in a phone interview. "I just told them to go out and finish an amazing year and we did that."
A 15-2 barnburner start to the game propelled the Lady Bulldogs to a commanding 21-7 advantage by the end of the first quarter.
"We did what we've been doing all year, using our trap defense to score our offense," Thurlow said. "It allowed us to get some easy baskets."
Seniors Taylor Bleumer and Janae Droste concluded outstanding careers with stellar performances — Bleumer registering a double-double with 17 points and 17 rebounds (12 on the defensive board) while Droste added 15 points on 4-of-9 field goals and 7-of-13 free throws. Bleumer also was 4-of-9 from the field and knocked down 9-of-12 charity shots as the Lady Bulldogs were 21-of-36 from the stripe.
"They (Wetmore) made some adjustments after that (first quarter) so we didn't get much in transition after that," Thurlow said. "We led most of the second half by about 10 to 15 points, but they did get it down to eight early in the fourth quarter, but for only about a minute. Then we went back up and never let them get close."
The Lady Bulldogs took a 30-18 lead to the locker room at halftime and the teams battled to a 9-9 standoff in the third quarter, thus giving Ingalls a 39-27 lead heading to the final quarter.
"We were able to get to the rim and the girls did a good job of setting screens and finishing off our shots," Thurlow said. "Taylor was just a major force as she had been all weekend and Janae was solid the entire tournament."
The Lady Bulldogs hit a solid 43.6 percent of their field goals on 17-of-39 attempts while Wetmore was held to just 13-of-45 for 28.9 percent. Wetmore was guilty of 20 turnovers to 18 for the Lady Bulldogs. Nichole Boden and Alayna Noe led the Cardinals with 17 and 16 points, respectively, but Ingalls won the board battle, 38-28.
Ingalls' third-place finish was one notch higher than its fourth-place effort in 2011.
"We have an amazing group of seniors who are very athletic and they will be missed," Thurlow said. "We've got a good core group of returners, so we've got something to start with and will just need to fill in around them next season."
The Lady Bulldogs completed the season with a 23-3 record while Wetmore finished at 22-4. Wallace County won the 1A-Division II title with a 48-46 victory over Hutchinson Central Christian.
Wetmore 7 11 9 15 -- 42
Ingalls 21 9 9 16 -- 55
Wetmore (22-4) — Noe 3-9 7-8 16, Henry 1-5 0-2 2, Hughes 0-1 0-0 0, Bloom 0-4 0-0 0, Boden 8-16 1-2 17, Evans 1-8 3-3 5, Kramer 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 13-45 13-17 42.
Ingalls (23-3) — J. Droste 4-9 7-13 15, Whipple 3-6 3-6 9, R. Wyatt 4-7 0-0 8, Bleumer 4-9 9-12 17, C. Wyatt 2-5 0-2 4, Estrada 0-2 0-0 0, Galaviz 0-1 2-3 2. Totals 17-39 21-36 55.
3-point goals--Wetmore 3-13 (Noe 3-7, Boden 0-2, Evans 0-4), Ingalls 0-1 (Estrada 0-1). Rebounds--Wetmore 28 (Henry 9), Ingalls 38 (Bleumer 17). Fouls--Wetmore 23, Ingalls 21. Fouled out--Wetmore (Kramer). Assists--Wetmore 6 (Henry, Boden 2 each), Ingalls 9 (Whipple 4). Turnovers--Wetmore 20, Ingalls 18. Blocked shots--none. Steals--Wetmore 10 (Henry 3), Ingalls 9 (Whipple 3).