After two nights of poorly-contested basketball, the third and final night of the Hilltop Hoops Classic at Barton Community College featured two contests that were decided in the final minutes. Southeast of Saline picked up its first win of the tournament with a 66-59 victory against Ness City. In a highly-anticipated championship game, No. 2 Sterling downed No. 6 Central Plains 66-56.
Sterling 66, Central Plains 56
With freshman-phenom Kylah Comley nursing a knee injury from Friday night’s win, undefeated Sterling looked to its sixth-man in Andi Dowell for the start. The sophomore did not disappoint, hitting her first five shots of the game and scoring all 23 of her points in the first three quarters to help the Black Bears remain unbeaten against Central Plains (12-2).
“Andi is kind of a special kid,” said Sterling Coach Jill Rowland. “Really, she’s obviously talented enough to be a starter and humble enough to be a spark off the bench. We really appreciate her efforts. She had just personality to be able to do that and not be selfish about herself. She comes in and she’s a monster.”
The teams battled back-and-forth for most of the evening. Lady Oiler freshman Reagan Phelan hit six of her first seven shots in the third quarter. Her final field goal of the night gave Central Plains a 44-41 lead late in the third quarter.
In the final minute of the frame, Dowell came up with a steal and assist to Comley for a 44-44 tie. Chelsey Riffel’s basket with four seconds left in the quarter put the Black Bears ahead for good at 46-45.
After a slow first half with just two points and two rebounds, Riffel came to life in the final two quarters for 13 of her 15 points and six more rebounds. She added a field goal early in the fourth quarter before two more free throws from Comley put Sterling ahead 50-45.
Central Plains used baskets from Janae Hekele and Katie Hipp to get as close as 50-49, but Sterling would pull back away with another field goal from Riffel, two free throws from Lydia Lambert, and four points from Dani Dowell for a 59-50 advantage with 2:11 remaining.
Sterling hit just three of its six free throw tries in the final 56 seconds, but a normally hot-shooting Lady Oiler team that converted 7-of-10 three-point tries in Tuesday’s win connected on just 3-of-19 tries from outside the arc, including several misses down the stretch.
“Part of it was their defense,” Central Plains Coach Pat Stiles said. “They play pretty good defense. We had some looks we could have hit.”
The Lady Oilers jumped out to a 5-0 lead with baskets from Jennifer Hitschmann and Hipp to begin the game. Andi Dowell scored the next six points in the game to give the Black Bears their first lead. Hitschmann sank two shots to close the quarter with her side ahead 13-9.
Dowell continued her torrential pace into the second quarter with two more field goals in just over four minutes. Hitschmann hit a three and Hipp added a putback for a 23-18 lead. Dowell again had the answer with three baskets in the final 2:15, including two and-one situations. Comley added five points in the quarter to give Sterling a 27-25 halftime lead.
Riffel scored four quick points to open the second half, but it was Phelan who had the biggest third quarter with 13 of her team-high 18 points coming in the frame.
“The ball just started going in the basket for her,” Stiles said. “When that happens, she gets a little more confidence. She’s a good shooter and sometimes there are just times she can’t get a bucket to go in. When they finally do, it gets her going.”Sterling was able to continue battling despite not using its press and turning the ball over a season-high 21 times.
“We just played frazzled all game knowing Kylah wasn’t there to handle the ball,” said Rowland. “It just got us out of synch a little bit. We’re normally a pressing team. We didn’t press at all tonight because of foot speed and because Kylah probably couldn’t.”
Andi Dowell added eight rebounds and six steals to go along with her 23 points. Riffel added eight rebounds, and Comley finished with 13 points despite playing only 20 minutes. Dani Dowell scored nine points in the win.
Hitschmann finished with 15 points for Central Plains. Hipp added eight points and a game-high 13 rebounds, and Hekele scored seven points. Freshman Taylor Rolfs finished with six points.
Southeast of Saline 66, Ness City 59
The young Lady Trojans did not go home empty-handed. After big losses to Sterling and Central Plains in the first two games of the tournament, Southeast rebounded to outlast the Eagles with 23 points in the fourth quarter for the win.
Lady Trojan junior Calli Calahan hit a long two for a 31-26 lead just 11 seconds into the second half. Ness City (5-8) answered with an 11-0 run. Freshman Regan Stiawalt and sophomore Cailin Foos each scored four points in that stretch that gave the Eagles a 37-31 lead midway through the third quarter.
Southeast freshman Erica Montgomery scored nine straight points for the Trojans (7-6) to eventually tie the game at 40 with 2:06 to play in the quarter. Southeast went on to lead 43-41 heading into the final frame.
Jessie Rubottom hit two free throws just 30 seconds in the in the fourth quarter to tie the score one final time at 43. The Lady Trojans would eventually build a 52-45 lead before letting the Eagles back in at 52-51 on a Makeene Fritts layup with 3:12 to play. Southeast sophomore Linzy Kaniper answered with six straight points, and a basket from Montgomery put the Trojans back in charge at 59-53 with 2:09 remaining.
The game was filled with high-scorers. Stiawalt paced the Lady Eagles with 25 points. Fritts added eight points, and Erin Flax and Foos each contributed six points. Tristan McVicker led the team with seven rebounds.
Montgomery scored 14 of her team-high 20 points in the second half, also grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds to complete the double-double. Calahan added 17 points, and Delani White and Kaniper each poured in 14 points. The freshman White had a nice all-around game with eight steals and five assists.