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Top-ranked Lady Oilers hang on against No. 4 Smith Center

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 10:18 PM CST
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RUSSELL, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - The bottom of the Amos Morris Tournament bracket is loaded this year. Tuesday night top-ranked Central Plains (1A, Div. II) held off No. 4 Smith Center 61-57 in round one. The reward: a semifinal game against fifth-ranked Phillipsburg (3A) Friday night.

“That’s what I told the girls,” said Central Plains coach Pat Stiles. “Here we play 3A Hoisington Friday, then we get to play a ranked Class 2A school today. That’s better than beating someone 80-10. We learn way more out of that. We would have lost the game but we at least would have learned a lot.”

Central Plains saw its state-record 138 game win streak come to an end at last year’s tournament. Tuesday the Lady Oilers controlled much of the game, keeping the lead around a dozen for much of the third quarter.

That began to change late in the third as the Lady Red entered the bonus with 2:35 left in the period. Junior Maile Hrabe hit a late three and scored 12 points in the quarter. Even her 3-point miss led to a putback and foul from senior Ashlyn Long. Smith Center closed the gap to 47-40 with a quarter to play.

“We just could not get separation, and we just kept committing fouls,” Stiles said. “We were bailing them out with fouls. But it’s the second game of the year. We’ll get better.”

Central Plains got early points on drives from junior Brynna Hammeke and senior Kassidy Nixon to start the fourth. Hammeke added a jumper, then transfer Madison McGuire scored on a putback and the lead was back to 54-43.

The Lady Red continued to fight back, cutting the gap to 54-50 on a free throw from sophomore Dakota Kattenberg with 2:49 remaining. Smith Center got as close as three points twice down the stretch but Hammeke provided the big dagger with a steal she took the distance for a 58-50 score with just 65 ticks left.

Central Plains pulled ahead 13-8 after one quarter, thanks to seven points from McGuire and six from Hammeke in the first eight minutes. Long scored six early points on the other end. The Lady Oilers led just 27-21 at the break before Hammeke went off for 12 points in the third quarter.

With her big third quarter, Hrabe paced the Lady Red with 20 points. Long added 12 points and six rebounds, Kattenberg finished with seven points, and Gracie Kirchhoff scored six points.

Hammeke led all players with 28 points to go with a handful of steals and assists. Nixon was also active in all aspects of the game and finished with 17 points. McGuire scored 11 of her 15 points in the first half.

“Three of our girls are new starters and they’re young,” Stiles said. “I just think it’s going to take a while for them to get some confidence. They’re capable of scoring.”

Even after ending their win streak at the start of the season, Central Plains went on to win its state-record seventh-straight state championship. The return of top talent on both sides makes Friday’s semifinal against Phillipsburg an intriguing one.

“We just want to get better,” said Stiles. “That’s our attitude all year is to take every practice and the next game and try to get better. Hopefully by the end of the year we’re pretty good.”

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