By BRETT MARSHALL
When the Garden City Buffaloes' boys basketball team met Hays High's Indians in the Dec. 7, 2013, championship game of the Hays City Shootout, it was an all-Indians domination in the first half.
Then, the Buffs turned the tables on their Western Athletic Conference rivals, rallying from a 19-point deficit before coming up just short in a 57-53 battle.
Friday at The Garden, though, things were different, albeit with the same outcome.
This time, the Indians, unbeaten and ranked among the elite Class 5A schools at 9-0 overall and 3-0 in the WAC, held off another second-half Buffs' rally, then finished off a strong fourth quarter for a 47-33 victory.
It spoiled homecoming for the Buffs, and also put the Indians in the driver's seat for the WAC title. They will get an opportunity to go through the first half of the league slate unbeaten on Tuesday when they host Dodge City. The Buffs, meanwhile, fall to 6-4 overall and are now 2-2 in the WAC. They will not play again until Thursday when they travel to Valley Center for the January Jam, where they face host Valley Center at 8:30 p.m.
It was particularly bittersweet for Mitchell Hernandez as the senior guard was crowned king at halftime, missed the halftime speech by coach Jacy Holloway, and then finished the night by hitting 3-of-4 3-pointers to share high-point honors for the Buffs with nine points.
"It wasn't so much what Hays did, but that we got out of our game," said a disappointed Hernandez afterward. "We rushed things on offense, made some turnovers and gave up some easy buckets."
Hernandez said that when the Buffs did execute their offense, things went well, and that came in the first and third quarters when they accounted for 24 of their 33 points. Once again, the Buffs hit the offensive skids with a paltry two points in the second quarter.
Having gained a 12-8 first-quarter advantage, the Buffs then went cold. But more than that, they committed seven of their 14 turnovers in that stretch.
Still, they were leading 14-10 with just under four minutes remaining in the first half. But they didn't score the rest of the way. Hays, meanwhile, caught fire from the outside and blistered the nets with four treys down the stretch — three of those by Jordan Windholz, including a dagger just before the halftime buzzer.
That produced a Hays lead of 22-14 at intermission, and the Buffs headed to the locker room searching for an answer.
They found it with a more patient offense, forcing Hays to play extended time on the defensive end — just what Holloway wanted.
"We were within striking distance, and I wanted to make Hays play more on the defensive end of the court," Holloway said. "We moved the ball with a purpose in the third quarter and we were able to knock some shots down, something we hadn't been doing."
Two Tristan Nanninga buckets in the final 2:26 of the third quarter drew the Buffs within four, 30-26, heading to the fourth.
When Nanninga opened the fourth period with a baseline jumper just 30 seconds in, the Buffs had drawn within two at 30-28.
"I liked where we were, but then we didn't continue to be patient and attack," Holloway said. "We didn't take advantage of what they were giving us. There were gaps and we just either didn't find them, or turned it over."
From that point, Hays responded with seven straight points to move up by nine, 37-28 with 5:37 showing. A free throw by Nanninga interrupted what eventually became a 13-1 run for the Indians, and that came with just under 90 seconds remaining.
"I thought we did more things better tonight than we had in the past few games," Holloway said. "But against a quality team like Hays, you don't have much margin for error."
Hernandez shared scoring honors with Nanninga as nobody managed to reach double figures for the Buffs. Brady Werth and Lane Clark led Hays with 13 points each, and Windholz finished with 12, all coming on shots beyond the arc. The biggest discrepancy in the game came at the free throw line, where Hays, which had missed 20 charities in that December win, went 13-of-20 (65.5 percent), while the Buffs only went to the line six times (eight Hays fouls, two in the second half) and made just three.
Garden City did win the rebounding battle against the Indians, grabbing 25 to Hays' 21. In the turnover department, though, the Buffs had 14 to just eight for the Indians. The teams will meet again on Feb. 21 in Hays.
Hays High 8 14 8 17 -- 47
Garden City 12 2 12 7 -- 33
Hays High (47) — Niernberger 0-2 2-2 2, Nunnery 1-2 0-0 2, Riedl 0-1 2-2 2, Hobson 0-0 0-2 0, Windholz 4-12 0-0 12, Clark 3-8 6-6 13, Rounkles 0-1 0-2 0, Werth 5-8 3-6 13, Parker 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 14-36 13-20 47.
Garden City (33) — Tramp 1-4 1-2 3, Delgado 2-8 0-0 5, Olivas 0-4 0-0 0, Koster 0-2 1-2 1, Hernandez 3-4 0-0 9, Nanninga 4-6 1-2 9, Rodriguez 3-4 0-0 6, Parr 0-0 0-0 0, Love 0-0 0-0 0, Rincones 0-0 0-0 0, Gurrola 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 13-32 3-6 33.
3-point goals--Hays 6-19 (Niernberger 0-2, Nunnery 0-1, Riedl 0-1, Windholz 4-9, Clark 1-5, Parker 1-1), Garden City 4-12 (Tramp 0-1, Delgado 1-3, Olivas 0-4, Koster 0-1, Hernandez 3-3). Rebounds--Hays 21 (Werth 6), Garden City 25 (Rodriguez 10). Turnovers--Hays 8, Garden City 14. Fouls--Hays 8, Garden City 14. Fouled out--none.