Garden Plain girls take 2nd straight title against Sterling, 47-40

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HAYS, Kan. (CIK) Garden Plain sophomore Alli Puetz had a tooth knocked out and missed nearly all the second half of Friday’s Class 2A semifinals victory against Alma-Wabaunsee. Junior Kennedy Horacek was injured half the year with a stress fracture and has played with a back brace. Sophomore Christia Rose Gorges broke her nose several weeks ago and must wear a face protector.

Garden Plain Lady Owl #2 Kara Heimerman looks for an open teammate to pass the ball in the third quarter. The Garden Plain Lady Owls faced the Wabaunsee Lady Chargers in a Class 2A State Championship Semi-Final game held at Gross Memorial Coliseum on the campus of Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas on March 8, 2019. (Photo: Joey Bahr,

Additionally, senior Kara Heimerman is 5-foot-2 and gave up at least two inches guarding standout scorers in the semifinals and Saturday’s championship game. Still, the Owls’ toughness and fortitude led to a 47-40 title victory versus Sterling at Fort Hays State University’s Gross Memorial Coliseum.

“We have grit, and we have heart, and we are tough,” Heimerman said. “It’s our Garden Plain blood.”

No. 4 seed Garden Plain (21-4) controlled the tempo, played excellent defense and had a huge day from its bench en route to its fifth state girls’ basketball crown. The Owls never trailed and fought off a big third-quarter comeback from the Black Bears.

No. 3 Sterling finished 21-5. The Black Bears are 0-3 all-time in finals and were in their first championship since ’99, according to Kansas historian Carol Swenson.

“They are very controlled,” Sterling coach Jill Rowland said. “Not a lot of turnovers. They manage everything. Well-coached. We want to try to speed you up and run, so they probably won that battle a little bit, and they are big and long, so they can kind of keep it away when we are trying to get after you with my littles.”

GP captured Class 3A basketball last year and then won 2A volleyball in Hays in the fall. In basketball, the Owls graduated 3A Player of the Year Taylor Joplin, but defeated Sterling, 56-48, in December and knocked off top-seeded Wabaunsee in the semifinals.

“They know how to compete, and they know how to keep composure,” Garden Plain coach Kody Kasselman said. “And they know how to battle, and that’s what it was. I don’t know if we were the best basketball team here, but we were the best team, team, and we stuck together and went to work, and came out with a state title, so we will celebrate this one and enjoy it.”

Puetz, a starter, left the Wabaunsee contest midway through the third quarter when her front middle tooth popped completely out.

On her birthday, Dr. Lindsay Pauly, an ’01 Garden Plain graduate who was on the ’01 girls’ basketball title team, is a current dentist in Newton.

Pauly was in the stands. She was able to get the tooth back in, and got Puetz in contact with Dr. Kurt Martin, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Hays. He fitted Puetz with a brace.

“They put a wire around it to keep it all stable for awhile,” Puetz said.

By Friday night, Puetz knew she was going to play Saturday.

“He opened up his office right here in Hays,” Pauly said. “We didn’t have to travel back home. … He’s a great guy, not many people would just let you use all of his stuff and open his office up for us.”

Puetz played 19 minutes and had five points and six rebounds.

“She was scared, and we were scared, but she is one of the toughest girls on our team,” Heimerman said. “We knew she was going to be fine.”

In a foul-plagued first half, GP led 11-7 after the first quarter. Sterling was 1 of 13 from the field in the first.

Late in the quarter, Garden Plain had three starters, senior Lauren Danahy, juniors Abby Gordon and Natasha Dooley, on the bench with foul trouble. Still, the Owls extended the lead.

Overall, Garden Plain received 40 minutes from their bench.

“Unbelievable,” Kasselman said. “Those kids came in and gave us huge minutes. I mean, I don’t think we win this game without them.”

Horacek went 2 of 6 from the field with six points, including a key 3 late in the first quarter. Gorges tallied three points.

“We are just all tough,” Puetz said. “We fight through as a team, and just like work together. If someone is hurt, we try to pick them back up.”

GP was up 17-7 early in the second when Heimerman took her first of two charges.

“She is a prairie wildcat,” Kasselman said. “For her size, we shouldn’t play her on the wing in our matchup zone, and we shouldn’t match her up with people that we match her up with, but she has got heart and soul. She has got all effort, and she will take on any comers.”

In the semifinals, she limited Wabaunsee standout junior Madelyn Hutley, a starter since her freshman year, to 3 of 12 shooting.

“Insanely great at defense,” Danahy said. “And we couldn’t do it without her.”

This time, she drew standout freshman point guard Kali Briar, who tallied 27 points in the first two state games. Briar went 0 of 7 shooting and did not score.

“That’s what I have been taught, and that’s what I am expected to do,” Heimerman said. “Coach Kasselman told me that’s my role, and I play good defense. It’s knowing the player, what they want to do, and I try not to let them do what they want to do.”

Garden Plain led 29-15 at halftime as Sterling shot 4 of 22 in the first half. Then, Sterling scored the first 12 points of the third quarter. GP, up 29-27, called timeout with 3:01 remaining in the third.

“It comes down to grit,” Kasselman said. “And I told them, ‘Sterling is not going away,’ at halftime, and they didn’t. I knew they would come out and Jill would have them fired up, and they came out and fought their butts off, and we were able to right the ship, and gain our composure.”

The Black Bears worked the ball inside and had 13 points from senior Debra Schmidt and 12 from junior Kinzie Comley. Then, Dooley scored on a drive, and Gordon (10 points) delivered a basket for a 33-27 lead entering the fourth.

“In the timeout, he just told us to respond,” Heimerman said. “They responded at halftime, and now it was our turn to respond, so we went out, and we moved better, and we responded.”

In the fourth quarter, Danahy went 6 of 6 from the foul line to seal the win.

“She is the one who makes us go,” Kasselman said.

Before state, Danahy averaged 11 points and five rebounds, but had 15 points on 9 of 11 foul shooting and five rebounds in the state title. In the first two state contests, she delivered 35 points and 25 rebounds.

“I just had to believe in myself and tell myself that I could make it,” Danahy said. “My teammates, they are the best teammates that I could ever ask for, and it’s easy when you have teammates like them. Never give up, no matter what is. No matter how hurt we are, we are going to keep going.”