Two of the loudest cheers from the South High student section — on a night when there were plenty of them — came late in the third quarter Friday night when the Cougars were building a huge lead against the Derby Panthers.
Junior reserves Cade Hannert and Jace Verela each buried a 3-pointer 73 seconds apart to build a 27-point advantage as Salina South rolled to a 66-52 victory in an AVCTL-I game at the Cougar gym.
It was all fun and games on a night when the homestanding Cougars won for the fourth time in five games to improve to 5-7 overall and 2-4 in the league.
"It was a lot of fun out there. We played with a lot of high intensity for four quarters," said senior Elex Banks, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. "That was our main goal, to go out and play hard and execute on every single possession."
The Cougars were simply quicker to the ball and the rim for much of the night. The visiting Panthers (2-10, 0-5) scored 27 of their points in the fourth quarter, but the final margin was as close as they were in the second half.
South, which started the game on a 6-0 run and used a 12-2 blitz in the second quarter, shot 53 percent from the field in the first three quarters and held Derby to just 24.4 percent shooting (9 of 37) during that time.
"The kids played really well; I was proud of our effort," South coach Jason Hooper said. "That's probably as good as we've played all year from a complete standpoint of offense, defense, transition, handling the press and rebounding. I felt like we played a complete game."
The Cougars led by 18 points at the break and by 29 heading into the fourth quarter. Despite starter A.J. Johnson missing the game — he had a tooth pulled on Thursday — South placed four players in double figures. Colin Schreiber led the way with 14 points, Banks and Devon Junghans scored 12 each and Ty Garrett added 10 off the bench on 5 of 6 shooting.
With Garrett getting healthy and sophomore Josh Jordan becoming eligible during the second semester after transferring from Sacred Heart, the Cougars have the depth Hooper likes.
"We've got some great depth," Hooper said. "We knew once we got to full strength this year, it was going to be a different situation than we were at at the the beginning of the year. You just see it happening right before your eyes, the team growing up. It's exciting to see."
The Cougars travel to Hays on Tuesday and will look to continue the momentum they built from a third-place finish in the Salina invitational and Friday night's victory.
"After the SIT, we felt pretty good about how the rest of the season is going to go," Banks said. "Right now, we're making good progress."
And, about those 3s by Hannert and Varela that raised the roof in the third quarter: "Those guys come in and they don't take a lot of shots in varsity action," Hooper said. "For them to step up and knock them down stone cold like that, gets our guys excited and our student body excited. That's always a lot of fun when those things happen."