HUTCHINSON — A strong senior class of five for the Hutchinson girls basketball team is guaranteed one more game after the Salthawks defeated Garden City, 53-45, Tuesday night at the Salthawk Activity Center.
Each team remained within striking distance of the other the entire game, but the Salthawks made key free throws down the stretch, and picked up clutch rebounds as well.
Senior Gabbie Posch made four free throws in the final minute, and junior Ziya Simms grabbed two offensive rebounds off missed free throws in the final minute to allow the Salthawks to melt the game away at the free-throw line.
Hutchinson opened a seven-point lead in the fourth — the largest by any team at the time — but Garden City brought the game back to within three with just under a minute to play.
Hutchinson's senior leadership showed in a game that went back and forth. The Salthawks marched five seniors on the court compared to one from the Buffaloes.
"These seniors have worked really hard over the past couple years, and hopefully we can get them one more win and make it to state," Hutchinson head coach Conor Reilly said.
While Garden City relied on the 3-ball, Hutchinson relied on the inside presence of senior Mekenzie Hefley and the shooting of senior Tina Robertson.
Hefley scored 12 points in the paint while Robertson scored a game-high 17 points, including nine points off 3s.
"Mekenzie Hefley brings it every night. She came out and competed and did some very nice things. She was at her best when we really needed it.
"Tina shot the ball very well."
Of Garden City's 16 made field goals, eight were from beyond the arc. The Buffaloes' leading scorer, junior Keyhana Turner, did not record a 3-point basket but did have 17 points.
Freshman Aileen Becerril was close behind with 15 and led the team with four 3-pointers.
"We've shot too many 3s at times this year, but sometimes it's not necessarily the shot but the timing of it," Garden City head coach Matt Pfeifer said. "Threes themselves I don't mind, but sometimes I thought we rushed our shots a little bit."
A Becerril 3 with 26 seconds left gave Garden City an 8-6 lead heading into the second quarter. The Buffaloes, who had four 3-pointers at halftime compared to one from Hutchinson, led 17-14 at halftime.
Hutchinson scored the first four points of the third and was 9 for 9 from the field in the quarter. Dating back to the end of the second quarter and all the way through early in the fourth, the Salthawks connected on 13 straight baskets.
Hutchinson was not able to pull away until midway through the fourth, but even then Garden City scratched and clawed.
In the end, Hutchinson survived and is now rewarded with a trip to No. 1 Topeka High for a sub-state championship.
Reilly is optimistic his Salthawks, now 12-9, can challenge the undefeated Trojans.
"I think we have a good group of girls who can compete and maybe give them some problems they haven't seen this year," Reilly said. "We're going to get to work tomorrow, and hopefully we can go out and give them a show.
"We're going to go out and compete, that's for sure."
Garden City ends its season with a 10-11 record. With Turner and Becerril back, the Buffaloes should be a formidable team next season.
"We have a lot returning. Now it's time to find consistency and take that next step," Pfeifer said.