HUGOTON — The Hugoton Lady Eagles are ranked No. 1 in the state Class 4A-Div. II polls.
They could either wear that like a badge of honor, or look at it like a target on their backs.
They chose mostly the former on Friday night as they opened the season with a 76-27 win over visiting Syracuse.
The Eagles forced 15 first-quarter turnovers with a tough press and tight defense, using that momentum to take a 22-9 lead, then rolled to a 40-12 halftime lead to put the game away early.
“I was happy with our intensity and effort,” Hugoton coach Andy Gillen said.
But Gillen also knows his girls have a lot to work on, especially with blocking out and rebounding.
Despite 34 boards of their own, the Eagles still gave up 20 to the Lady Bulldogs, too many of them on the offensive side.
Defensive rotation is another area to clean up, Gillen said.
“We were getting too cluttered up in the middle too much. The spacing and timing comes later,” he said. “With it being the first game, we know it’s our first test and now we know what we need to focus on in practice.”
The Hugoton press was effective. Eight of Syracuse’s nine possessions to open the game resulted in turnovers as the Eagles opened with a 15-3 run.
That defense also held Syracuse to a field goal and a free throw in the second quarter.
It was a pretty good showing on that side of the ball to balance the scoring on the other.
Amy Scott led Hugoton with 24 points, including a pair of treys.
Riley Sosa ended with 14 points, hitting four 3s.
Estafani Armendariz had 12 and Katie Heger 10.
“We’re going to go as our defense goes, and we are undersized but fast,” Gillen said. “Our press gave them trouble. We get a few turnovers and get going.”
It also helped that Hugoton went 26-of-67 shooting, putting up shots at will, with many of them coming inside past a slightly taller Bulldogs defense.
“We have a lot of girls who play a lot of basketball, and they do a lot of work on their own in the offseason to get better,” Gillen said. “The seniors play a huge role in their leadership and their strength, and the younger kids come in with their skill.”
It also means the Eagles have a lot of depth. Gillen said it’s a similar philosophy to how the University of Kentucky can play a solid lineup, even off the bench, which helps to wear down its opponents.
Hugoton hosts the Blue and Red Classic next week, bringing in three out-of-state teams that already have many games behind them.
“It’ll be a good test for us,” Gillen said.
Syracuse coach Bryce Simon found some silver linings, even in the loss.
“Hugoton’s really good and we knew that. And I know it sounds crazy, but even down 30, I was happy with how my girls played in the first half,” he said. “They played hard and got after it. We just have to make more shots and limit turnovers.”
The Bulldogs were just 11 of 34 from the field, and ended with 31 turnovers.
But with nearly 50 percent of those coming in the first half, that meant they cut back a lot over the next three quarters.
“I don’t mind playing a team like that first because they expose all our weaknesses,” Simon said. “I can look at the film, and anything we did well against them, I know we can do well against anybody else.”
Syracuse plays in the Rolla tournament next week.
SYRACUSE (0-1)—Lamb 1 0-0 2, Keller 1 0-2 2, Stum 1 2-4 4, Wilson 3 0-2 6, Pollart 2 1-5 5, Wharton 2 1-1 5, Durler 0 0-1 0, Brown 1 1-1 3. 11-34 5-16 27.
HUGOTON (1-0)—Johnson 0 0-1 0, Armendariz 6 0-0 12, Hoskinson 1 3-4 5, Fabela 0 1-2 1, Scott 8 6-6 24, Pena 1 0-0 2, Hoskinson 2 0-0 4, Heger 3 4-6 0, Rawlins 1 2-4 4, Sosa 4 2-2 4. Totals 26-67 18-25 76.
Syracuse 9 3 11 4 — 27
Hugoton 22 18 25 11 — 76
3-point goals—Syracuse 0, Hugoton 6 (Scott 2, Sosa 4). Rebounds—Syracuse 20 (Pollart 7), Hugoton 34 ( Armendariz 5, Scott 5). Turnovers—Syracuse 31, Hugoton 6. Personal fouls—Syracuse 17, Hugoton 15. Tech. fouls—none.