Trailing 41-36 with 2:10 to play in Tuesday's Winter Jam game in Hoisington, things were not looking good for No. 2 seed Ellinwood. The Lady Eagles found another gear, hitting key free throws and setting up a press that eventually netted the squad a 46-43 win. Ellinwood will play No. 3 seed Pratt in Friday's semifinal.
Hoisington trailed 36-32 midway through the final quarter before Kelsi Dalton capped a 9-0 run with a 3-point at the 2:10 mark. Ellinwood answered with a pair of free throws from Mya Maxwell that allowed the Eagles to get back into their full-court press.
"It was huge," said Ellinwood coach Andrew Cherry. "If we miss those free throws we have to fall back into our half court stuff and there's no pressure. The other day we weren't able to hit our free throws. Today we were able to step up and hit them with confidence."
The press resulted in a quick steal by freshman Brittney Simpson, which ultimately netted a pair of free throws from Ashtin Klepper. Ellinwood trailed just 41-40 with 1:13 remaining.
Dalton made two free throws on the other end to push the lead back to 43-40 with 66 ticks left. Simpson played hero again with a baseline drive to get the Eagles back within one with 40 seconds on the clock.
In a flurry of late activity, Ellinwood overcame a turnover and Maxwell gave the Eagles a 44-43 lead off her own miss with 19 seconds left in regulation. Out of the press, Simpson stole the ball and scored with seven seconds ticking down. Hoisington's attempt to tie the game at the buzzer missed.
Simpson played marginal minutes in the win but came up with two crucial steals and all four of her points in the final 90 seconds.
"Brittney is one of those players who is just such a competitor," Cherry said. "She's just hard-nosed, tough, and athletic. She was put in that situation because Mary (Dimitt) had a cut on her knee. I told her I needed her and she came up big. Her length is big and her speed is big. She's so athletic that making that play on the baseline is nothing.
The teams traded leads all night. Ellinwood led 9-8 after one quarter but trailed 22-13 by halftime. The Lady Eagles opened the second half on a 12-0 run, only for Hoisington to storm back ahead 30-27 heading into the fourth quarter. Ellinwood entered that frame with a 9-2 run.
The senior Dalton led all players with 20 points and 11 rebounds for Hoisington. Keeley Wolf added eight points for the Lady Cards. Maxwell paced Ellinwood with 20 points, seven steals, and seven rebounds. Klepper and Daphne Doll each added nine points, and Doll also grabbed seven boards.
With no seventh-place game in this year's tournament, Hoisington looks to stay alive against LaCrosse in Thursday's consolation semifinal. Ellinwood advances to Friday's semifinal game against No. 2 seed Pratt.
"We knew Hoisington wasn't going to be easy," said Cherry. "Dalton went off. When that happens, you hope you can win it. Pratt will be tough. They pressure so we'll have to take care of the basketball. We're hoping to turn them over as well. It will be a tough game but we're looking forward to coming back on Friday and getting to play on Saturday."