Good basketball teams will improve a lot from game one of the season to the end of the year. In Thursday’s Hays City Shootout opener, DeSoto’s turnaround was a little quicker. The Wildcats trailed 25-16 at the half only to bounce back for a 52-44 win against Great Bend.
“To be honest, in practice we’ve been that way,” said DeSoto Coach Matt Rice. “We’ve been up and down. What we’ve been focusing on is trying to be more consistent.”
Great Bend senior Ethan Henderson started the game strong with seven first quarter points to put the Panthers ahead 10-7 after eight minutes of play. Great Bend held the Cats scoreless for nearly six minutes, and Henderson added six more points in the second quarter to give the Panthers the big halftime lead.
“I felt like in the second quarter we really took control of the game,” said Great Bend Coach Chris Battin. “We were playing hard and playing with a lot of energy. In the third quarter, we were just dead. They were taking it to us. Credit to them, they came out on fire in the second half and really took it to us.”
The Panthers shot 53 percent from the floor in the first half, but DeSoto clamped down on defense in the third quarter, holding Great Bend to just 1-of-9 shooting. Meanwhile, Wildcat junior Quinton Verhulst scored five of his game-high 13 points in the frame, including a layup off a steal with 1:05 to play in the quarter to get DeSoto back within two.
“We talked about at halftime just focusing on fundamentals,” Rice said. “I felt like we were giving up way too much penetration, letting people just cut right in front of us on backdoor cuts. We just weren’t getting the job done. In the second half, that changed. All of a sudden we were stopping cutters. We weren’t letting them get into the lane on dribble-drives. That made all the difference in the world.”
For a while, it looked like the Wildcats would not be able to get over the hump. Six-foot-six senior Isaac Lueth missed a free throw that would have tied the game. Still trailing 29-28, senior guard Braiden Turner came up with two steals, but those takeaways netted two missed layups.
The Wildcat defense carried the team, forcing four Great Bend turnovers in the first 2:35 of the final frame and eight turnovers in the quarter. After shooting a meager 32 percent from the floor in the first half, DeSoto turned it on in the final quarter to convert 7-of-14 field goal tries.
“We talked a lot at halftime about being aggressive, especially my two big kids who have been good in practice all year,” said Rice. “They showed up here today and were a little timid in the first half. They came around in the second half and were more aggressive, which helped our guards on the outside be more aggressive because the defense had to pay attention to the inside.”
The Panthers went to the three to stay close down the stretch, making 4-of-9 tries from behind the arc in the final quarter, but the Wildcats at one point connected on five-of-six free throw tries to keep Great Bend at bay.
“It boiled down to a lack of execution and turning the ball over,” Battin said. “We didn’t take very good shots at times. We’ve got a lot to work on to get better and that’s the bottom line for this team.”
Verhulst added four rebounds and three blocks to his big game. Lueth finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocked shots. Sophomore Dalton Verhulst hit five-of-six free throws and added an early three for 12 points, and Riley Couch finished with nine points for DeSoto.
Henderson scored all 13 of his points in the first half, also leading the Panthers with seven rebounds. Senior guard Matt Marshall added six points and five rebounds.
DeSoto girls 44, Great Bend 28
For a while, it looked as though the Lady Wildcats would not have an answer for Great Bend post player Morgan Harwood. The five-foot-eleven junior scored the first three points of the game. Eventually, DeSoto caught on, taking a 17-8 lead after one quarter and holding on for a 44-28 win in round of one the Hays City Shootout on Thursday.
It looked like a first game of the year early on. Both sides struggled with fouls in the first quarter. Great Bend picked up its seventh foul less than six minutes into the game. DeSoto followed about 70 seconds later.
“That was very sloppy,” said DeSoto Coach Jim Bonar. “Honestly, I’ve got 10 of my top 21 this year injured. I have three starters sitting on the bench with major injuries and we’re not sure when they’re going to come back. That was about what we expected. Our first practice all together was last Saturday.”
The teams combined for just five field goals in the second quarter. The Wildcats made just 2-of-17 shots, allowing the Panthers to claw back to 21-19 at the half.
DeSoto’s six-foot-one sophomore Megan Bonar proved to be a factor on both ends of the floor, blocking five shots in the first half, and adding three stuffs in the second half.
“Our defense, I thought, was pretty sloppy other than the fact that Megan got six or seven blocks down there early that kind of slowed down some drives and made them kick it out instead,” Coach Bonar said. “That really helped us out a lot.”
Offensively, Bonar led the Lady Wildcats with 12 points. She also grabbed five rebounds in the win.
“Defensively, we knew we were going to have to stop Bonar,” said Great Bend Coach Carrie Minton. “I think we did a good job of wearing her down. Someone like that is going to get her looks.”
DeSoto began to pull away in the third quarter, allowing just one Lady Panther field goal in the frame. Freshman Kristin Saucerman knocked down a triple and the Cats led 28-21 with a quarter to play.
Wildcat Melissa Brashears opened the fourth quarter with her only two shots of the game – two three-point makes from in front of her own bench. Saucerman added two free throws to cap a quick 8-0 run. DeSoto eventually pushed the lead to 38-21 before a flurry of activity netted three Great Bend baskets. Kylee Spray made a layup, then McKenna Mauler and Kaylee Doll each took steals for layups for a 38-28 score with 2:03 to play.
“We had a couple of key moments where we came up with some big steals and were able to put up some points,” Minton said. “It just rejuvenates and kind of brings some life back.”
Those would be the final points for the Lady Panthers, but Minton pinpointed exactly where the offense failed in the first game of the year.
“We were really happy with the way the girls came out – how aggressive they were and the tempo they were trying to set,” she said. “In the postgame stuff we looked at, we just talked to the girls a little about a few fundamental things. We missed a ton of easy shots underneath. I think we counted on our shot chart 25 missed bunnies. That’s a lot of points left hanging around the rim.”
Senior Paige Williams scored six of her 10 points in the fourth quarter for DeSoto, leading the Wildcats with six rebounds. Harwood scored eight of her team-high 10 points in the first half, leading Great Bend with six boards. Doll and Tarynn Stueder each chipped in five points, and Stueder finished with five rebounds.