Hays High boys continue undefeated record behind Linenberger, Schwarz
HAYS, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Hays High 6-foot-6 junior forward Jace Linenberger leads the Indians with 16 points and eight rebounds a contest. On Saturday, Linenberger picked up his fourth foul with 6 minutes, 1 second remaining in the third. A frustrated Linenberger missed the rest of the quarter.
Second-year coach Alex Hutchins perpetually has great belief in his players. He and Linenberger knew the forward would come back at the start of the fourth. Once he returned, Linenberger quickly scored four points and avoided a foul on a key play down low at the 6:48 mark.
Buoyed by Linenberger, strong second-half team defense and a big game from senior forward Dalyn Schwarz, HHS pulled away for a 61-48 victory against Salina South in the Class 5A sub-state championship game at Hays High.
“We are going to let them ride with fouls a lot more than most people will,” Hutchins said. “Really, the mindset is just trusting our players and giving them the opportunity to go settle it on the court. I would rather Jace be out there and pick up a fifth foul playing hard than waste his minutes sitting on the bench. And so, he did a really good job of battling that.”
Linenberger delivered a game-high 18 points, along with five rebounds. The 6-6 Schwarz, long known for his consistency and second half play, finished with 15 points and six rebounds. Salina South led 39-38 entering the fourth quarter, but HHS went on a 12-0 run for a 54-43 lead.
“It was pretty scary,” Linenberger said. “I was trying to be careful, so I didn’t foul out, and I don’t want to get a ticky-tack foul on me. Like still play aggressive, but not too aggressive, so you don’t foul out, so I can help my teammates out, get the win.”
Hays High didn’t make a 3-pointer against highly athletic, experienced South. HHS had shot 37 percent on treys this winter and sank at least one 3 in every contest. Last winter, the Indians beat rival Great Bend in the sub-state final with one trey.
“I knew they were solid,” South coach Jason Hooper said of HHS’ forward duo. “I think they were a little stronger than I thought they were. But they found them. Their guards were really good at finding them in the right spots and giving them the ball in the right positions to do something with it. Got to give them a ton of credit.”
The Indians, ranked No. 1 in Class 5A, improved to 22-0 and bumped their winning streak to 30 games. Hays High has the longest current boys’ winning streak in Kansas. Salina South, ranked second in 5A for multiple weeks, finished 16-5 against a strong schedule that was more challenging than the Indians.
“Give credit to South,” Hutchins said. “The record that they had with the schedule they had is incredible. I mean, I don’t know if we would have had that record with that schedule.”
Both teams are significantly experienced. South had four three-year starters and two others who had started since freshman year. HHS’ starting five has logged 320-plus varsity games. South defeated the Indians, 64-62, and 65-51, in the last two years. Normally, the squads always match up in the regular season.
“Wanted to show everyone what we got, so we are better than what people think,” Linenberger said. “It’s not just an easy schedule.”
This year, Hays High lost some of its high-profile 5/6A matchups because of COVID-19 schedule changes. In past years, 5A would have been seeded, and the teams would have been in separate sub-states. KSHSAA elected for the geographic sub-states because of coronavirus concerns.
“I really felt like today was a bit of a judgement day and kind of an opportunity for us to see how much we have grown since we’ve played them a year ago,” Hutchins said. “And so it was just really exciting to see our kids respond.”
Hays High’s players had often talked about the ending to the 2020 season. The Indians made a 5A Forever Four run before the tournament was cancelled from COVID-19. Before Saturday, the players again mentioned last winter. Hays High has traditionally had quality teams and just has one all-time state title, in 1944.
Hays High will play host to 19-2 Topeka West in the state quarterfinals in a 6 p.m. start Tuesday.
“We just really wanted it,” Linenberger said. “And once state got taken away from us, it just held on to us, and we really just wanted this game. We want to go back and get the job done and win a ring.”
Hutchins nearly showed emotions during pregame and the national anthem.
“Because of the way last year ended and all the uncertainty that we dealt with before the season and even early in the season,” Hutchins said.
Because of COVID-19 concerns, the season almost started several weeks late. Teams played in empty fieldhouses until midseason. On Saturday, Hays High maintained its usual social distancing, attendance limits and masks, though had a loud crowd and student section.
Hays High made its first six shots, all inside the arc, and led 16-9 after the first quarter.
“We always want to get it into our bigs, because we know nobody can guard our bigs,” senior guard Jason Krannawitter said. “So anytime that they were open down there, we always want to hit them.”
South, paced by 17 points from senior Devon Junghans and 13 from senior A.J. Johnson, took a 30-28 halftime lead. Linenberger picked up his third foul with no time left in the second quarter when he guarded a trey.
“As soon as he got that second, it was evident that Salina South was doing what they could to draw fouls on him,” Hutchins said. “When he got the ball, they were embellishing contact. When he was on defense, they were trying to drive at him.”
Schwarz scored eight points in the third. HHS trailed 39-38 entering the fourth despite Linenberger missing significant time.
“Dalyn is Mr. Consistent for us,” Hutchins said. “I think that’s the thing that’s the most remarkable about him - and not just consistent with his production and what he does on the court, but just his attitude, his effort, his communication skills and his leadership.”
Linenberger quickly tallied a fourth quarter basket. Then, with 6:48 left, Linenberger received the ball on the left side. Johnson guarded him. Linenberger turned and scored. Officials whistled a foul, though ruled it on Johnson. Linenberger looked over to his bench and let out a big exhale.
“You are just holding your breath,” Krannawitter said. “And once you see the ref make the ‘and-1’ call, … just a relief, that’s for sure.”
Linenberger, Schwarz, senior T.J. Nunnery (10 points), and junior Carson Kieffer (12 points) helped HHS enjoy the 12-0 surge for a 54-43 lead.
“Hays was better than us in the fourth quarter,” Hooper said.
South shot 3 of 15 in the fourth quarter. The Indians contained South seniors Colin Schreiber and Josh Jordan.
“We were just trying our best to stay in front of them and contest their shots,” Krannawitter said.
“In the second half, we did a really good job of playing scouting report defense,” Hutchins added.
When the game ended, Hutchins celebrated with his team at midcourt. Then, he turned around and walked over to assistant Trey O’Neil. Hutchins let out a deep breath and hugged O’Neil. Hutchins, known for his calm, jovial nature, exuded happiness through the series of postgame photos.
“This is an awesome experience, and we are going to soak up and enjoy every moment of it,” he said.
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