Garden City High School’s girls basketball team had something to prove Thursday night at The Garden.
A little more than 24 hours earlier, the Buffaloes read comments made by Lawrence-Free State players and coaches in an article previewing Thursday’s sub-state semifinal game in Garden City.
“We got the newspaper thing and Lawrence said they were already booking a hotel at Liberal, and it felt like we needed to do something,” GCHS senior guard Elyssa Salazar said.
That something was a 33-27 win over the visiting Firebirds, sending them home to Lawrence a couple of days earlier than planned. The Buffs (12-9), instead, will make the trip to Liberal for Saturday’s 6 p.m. tip in the sub-state final.
In truth, the Firebirds were mostly discussing the long road trip to Garden City in the article in the Lawrence Journal-World, and how they were handling the rare overnight trip for an eastern Kansas team. They were staying at a hotel on Thursday night, regardless if they won or lost.
But it was enough to give the Buffs something a little extra to play for.
“It just lingered in our brains and we just needed to get it out,” Salazar, who finished with a team-high 11 points, said.
Like most of the season, the Buffs’ offense never really got going, hitting just 22.7 percent of their shots (10 of 33) and going 4 of 20 from three-point range. But their defense was stellar, holding Free State to 26.3 percent shooting (10 of 38) and racking up six steals.
“They really paid attention to the scouting report and knowing their personnel,” GCHS head coach Matt Pfeifer said of his defense. “They really only had three kids on the court we were really worried about, so having (the bigs) able to help down really helped out our kids not having to defend 1-on-1.”
That defensive help frustrated Free State’s guards, who ran into post defender after post defender on dribble drives.
Guard Caely Keston had enough in the third quarter, slapping her hands and then stomping her foot while yelling “Come on!”
It was the type of frustration the Garden City High School defense delivered all night. After Salazar went on a personal five-point run early in the game to give the Buffs a 6-4 lead, Garden City never surrendered the lead.
Shannon Clarke — who finished with a game-high 18 points — pulled the Firebirds within 12-9 in the second quarter, but Julie Calzonetti answered with a three. Keyhana Turner put the Buffs ahead by 10 in the third quarter on a putback, before Free State went on a 6-0 run to cut the deficit to 19-15 entering the fourth quarter.
At 21-17, Calzonetti again made a big bucket to put the Buffs ahead by six. The Buffs then went into a four-corner offense to try to drain the clock, but Free State cut the lead to 28-25, before Felicity Rodriguez stripped Caely Keston for the steal.
Nateara Beasley then was fouled, and she drained both free throws, and the Buffs went 3 of 4 in final minute to hold onto the win.
“This is how we play half the time anyway,” Free State coach Ted Juneau said. “That’s why we’re 10-11 now. We’re stagnant (on offense). We make good cuts and we can’t make a layup. Garden City plays hard — they’re scrappy. You’ve got to give them credit, but we either play with a lot of confidence or we play with no confidence.”
That was at least part of the point Salazar and the Buffs wanted to make.
“They all play good teams (in the east), they all have traveling teams, and out here we’re low on that, but we still work hard,” Salazar said.
They also are a win away from a state tournament trip; though, undefeated and No. 1 seed Liberal stands in the way Saturday.