By NICK McQUEEN
Special to The Telegram
HAYS — If at any point in the season there was a good measuring stick for the quality of the Dighton High School girls' basketball team, it was having Class 1A Division I title-favorite Hoxie on the ropes. Not many have done that in Hoxie's current 70-game winning streak.
In case there were still any doubters heading into the Class 1A Division II state tournament at Gross Memorial Coliseum, the Hornets took another step toward silencing said non-believers.
The Hornets won a game at the state tournament for the first time since 2009, knocking off the champion from two years ago, Argonia, 47-35.
"We worked hard all season long, and we had a tough schedule," said Dighton coach Amy Felker. "We prepared for stages like this. If Hoxie can do it, we're just in that same caliber."
It didn't come easy by any means. In what some might think could be a title game, neither the fifth-seeded Hornets nor the fourth-seeded Raiders built up more than a four-point lead until the final quarter.
"We have had to play hard every game, but I told the girls 'you have to play like you played against Hoxie,' " Felker said.
Those games against Hoxie resulted in three of the Hornets' five losses. The other two were against defending Division II state champ Ingalls and Class 2A sub-state runner-up Ness City.
Argonia also had some losses it would like to have back. The Raiders lost three before the holiday break, but only one since — before Thursday.
Senior Haylea Hessman was playing like Argonia was the team to beat in the first half. She scored 11 of the Raiders' first 14 points, including a 3-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer to tie the game at 14.
"We gave her a couple easy baskets,"¬ Felker said of Hessman, a 5-foot-10 left-hander.
Dighton took a 19-16 lead eventually, but it was a lead that could have grown larger. During a 5-minute stretch to end the first half, the Hornets made just 3-of-10 free throws. In that stretch, Argonia got just three points on a trey from senior Shelby McCoy.
By halftime, Dighton made just 6-of-13 free throws, but were led by seven points from Jordan Speer. Hessman had 13 at the break for Argonia, but Dighton led 21-20 going into the locker room.
Hessman ended up with just two more points after intermission, and eventually Dighton was able to gain some momentum when Kiara Budd hit a 3 to put Dighton up by four. That made sure Dighton held on to the lead for good.
"They kept sticking together and they played hard," Felker said. "It takes a team effort."
Dighton ended up hitting 14-of-25 free throws after a rough first half. Kiara Budd led the way with 11 points, with a pair of 3-pointers. Liz Heath, Shambrey Budd and Jordan Speer scored eight each. Dighton held a 44-24 edge in rebounding, with Shambrey Budd pulling down 14 boards.
Dighton (18-5) moves into Friday's 6:30 p.m. game against top seed Baileyville B&B (22-3), while the Raiders finish their season at 19-5.
"We know we can do it," Felker said. "We're here to play. They're going to be physical, and they'll get it up and down the court. We're just excited to go on to the next round."
Dighton 14 7 8 18 -- 47
Argonia 14 6 10 5 -- 35
Dighton (18-5)--Kiara Budd 3-10 3-4 11, Brown 2-7 1-3 5, Heath 3-7 2-2 8, L. Speer 1-4 2-2 4, S. Budd 3-11 1-4 8, Cramer 1-3 1-2 3, Speer 2-4 4-8 8. Totals --¬ 15-46 14-25 47.
Argonia (19-5)--Haylea Hessman 6-18 2-2 15, Fitch 1-8 3-4 6, Gaddie 3-8 0-0 7, Drouhard 0-1 0-0 0, McCoy 1-3 0-0 3, Topinka 0-1 0-0 0, Harrill 1-2 25 4. Totals — 12-41 7-11 35.
3-point goals--Dighton 3-11 (K. Budd 2-7, S. Budd 1-3, Cramer 0-1); Argonia 4-15 (Fitch 1-5, Gaddie 1-4, Drouhard 0-1, Hessman 1-3, McCoy 1-2). Assists--¬ Dighton 11 (Brown 4); Argonia 9 (Three with 2). Steals--Dighton 10 (Cramer 3); Argonia 10 (Hessman 3, McCoy 3). Blocks--Dighton 2 (Heat 1, L. Speer 1); Argonia 4 (Gaddie 2, Hessman 2). Total fouls--Dighton 14, Argonia 23. Fouled out--Gaddi, Drouhard, Argonia. Rebounds--Dighton 44 (S. Budd 14); Argonia 24 (Fitch 5). Turnovers--Dighton 17, Argonia 20.