Haven High’s MaKayla Stucky, 5-foot-6, was outsized by five inches against Buhler’s Josie Williams.
Stucky keyed Haven’s aggressive defensive tone by defending Williams, last year’s Most Valuable Player in the Ark Valley League Chisholm Trail Division III.
Haven’s defense overwhelmed Buhler 45-29 to capture Saturday’s 40th Haven Wildcat Classic for the Wildcats’ first championship since 2009. Buhler shot 30 percent and committed 20 turnovers against the Wildcats’ quick and aggressive defense.
Stucky denied Williams the basketball and several of the Crusaders’ turnovers were committed trying to force the ball into Williams, who earned all-tournament honors. The Crusaders didn’t score a basket for 11 minutes at the start and were scoreless for eight minutes in the second half.
“I didn’t want her to get the ball at all. She was one of the toughest players I’ve ever defended,” Stucky said. “We wanted to faceguard Williams and front her because she can do whatever she wants when she gets the ball. I did pretty good. My teammates really helped out on the backside.”
Cora Ezell and Samantha Stallbaumer each scored 12 points and Hailey Davis chipped in 11 points. Davis, Stallbaumer and Ashley Rogers earned all-tournament honors. The Wildcats outscored the Crusaders 16-5 from the free throw line by attacking the basket.
Haven coach Dwight Roper mixed defensive looks, double teaming Williams in the low post and sometimes denying her the basketball with good ball pressure. Davis stole the ball several times off help defense.
“Their strength and size inside concerned me. We wanted to take away their easy baskets, and we did it in different ways, sometimes bringing the high post down,” Roper said. “We hang our hat on defense. Intensity-wise we were on our toes defensively. Our girls executed exactly how we wanted. The girls played smart.”
Haven (10-3) also beat Buhler two years ago when the teams met in Class 4A substate. Buhler (7-5) upset top-seeded Moundridge 49-48 to qualify for the championship game.
Buhler’s Taryn Torgerson played brilliantly with 12 points and several perfect assists that led to Williams’ 11-point night.
But the other Crusaders managed 3 of 13 shooting. Freshman Jessica Steffen, who had scored 17 points against Moundridge, went scoreless, but still earned all tournament honors.
“We had some chances, but we didn’t finish some plays,” said Buhler coach Brennan Torgerson. “We never really got into the game. Their defense was better than our offense tonight.”
Ezell set the offensive tone with a trio of 3-pointers for a stunning 16-3 lead. Haven’s 30-13 halftime lead was built on a 9-3 advantage on 3-pointers and a 10-4 edge at the free throw line. The Crusaders shot 25 percent on 4 of 16 shooting with 13 turnovers.
Roper said the Wildcats’ effectively attacked the helped, which freed up outside shooters and got the Wildcats to the free throw line.
“We got into the flow of the game and got the nerves out of the way,” Roper said. “We took what they gave us. Those 3-pointers were huge. Cora is a pure shooter. We thought they would have a hard time stopping our dribble penetration.”
Taryn Torgerson led Buhler’s only run of the championship with back-to-back 3-pointers after an assist to Williams to slice Haven’s lead to 34-24. But Stallbaumer drilled a 3-pointer off a rebound and Hailey Davis and Stallbaumer scored for a 42-24 lead when Buhler went scoreless for eight minutes.
Buhler coach Torgerson said the Wildcats outhustled and outworked his team.
“We were not strong with the basketball and they definitely played tougher than we did,” Torgerson said. “Haven played really well and did everything they wanted to do. They’ve got a solid group of seniors who have played in these type of championship games before.”
After two solid efforts, Torgerson said the Crusaders’ help defense was slow to react.
“We were a step behind all game,” he said.
Others named Haven Classic all-tournament were Moundridge’s Brooke Holloway and MacKenzie Suderman, Chelsea Ebenkamp of Conway Springs, Cheney’s Taylor Denney, Kingman’s Sydney Beat and Nickerson’s Paige Stewart.
Moundridge 45, Conway Springs 30 (Third Place) – Moundridge outscored the Cardinals 26-13 in the second half to capture third place. Brooke Holloway scored 18 points and Tiffany Huxman added nine points. The Wildcats (10-3) started the second half with 10 consecutive points. Holloway and MacKenzie Suderman averaged 11 points in the tournament.
Conway Springs (8-5) was paced by Chelsea Ebenkamp with eight points. She averaged 10 points in three games.
Cheney 50, Kingman 46 (Fifth Place) – Cheney converted four free throws in the final minute to capture fifth place. Kingman’s Sada Smith tied the score at 46 with a basket. But Emily Jacobs and Carlea Holt made free throws for a 48-46 lead.
Madison Bangert missed a 3-point attempt and Kingman committed a turnover on its final two possessions. Taylor Denney iced the victory with two free throws.
The lead went back and forth and the score was tied at 42, 44 and 46 in the final quarter. Cheney led 37-36 after three periods.
Cheney (7-6) was paced by Denney and Jacobs with nine points. Kingman (4-9) was led by Smith with 15 points and Bangert added 12 points.
Halstead 40, Nickerson 27 (Seventh Place) – Halstead won the seventh-place game as Sydney Beat hit a 3-pointer and the Dragons outscored Nickerson 12-2 in the final five minutes. Halstead led 28-25 after
Nickerson’s Madison Chronister hit back-to-back baskets. But Beat capped a 16-point performance with a 3-pointer and the Dragons iced the victory with free throws.
Halstead (5-8) broke an eight-game losing streak and scored 40 points for the first time since the second game of the season. Nickerson (0-13) was paced by Paige Stewart with eight points.
The Panthers made 9 of 36 field goals and 6 of 11 free throws with 22 turnovers.
Halstead converted 9 of 27 field goals 16 of 26 free throws to outscore the Panthers by 10 points. The Dragons committed 17 turnovers.