Garden Plain, Sterling set for rematch in 2A final

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HAYS, Kan. Garden Plain sophomore starting guard Alli Puetz left Friday’s game with 3 minutes and 11 seconds remaining in the third quarter. In a physical play, Puetz lost a tooth, and brought it over in her hand to GP coach Kody Kasselman.

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, www.joeybahr.com)

Puetz immediately left the game where she was attended to by multiple personnel, including her parents and trainers. Puetz first stood and then moved to a chair for more medical treatment. Kasselman quickly called a timeout and told the girls, “Alli P is fine.”

At that point, the Owls trailed by three and had not led since the first quarter. However, Garden Plain eventually came back in a wildly entertaining 55-51 overtime win against Alma-Wabaunsee in the Class 2A semifinals at Fort Hays State University’s Gross Memorial Coliseum.

“When we came in the huddle, Coach was like, ‘Let’s do it for Alli,’” junior Kennedy Horacek said. “So that’s what we did. We went out and played for her, and finished it for her.”

Garden Plain and Wabaunsee marked one of the highlighted semifinals for all classifications. GP won 3A basketball last winter, and defeated Wabaunsee for the 2A volleyball crown in the fall. Wabaunsee returned four-year starters Madelyn Hutley and Abby Oliver, whom helped the Chargers to a 2A basketball runner-up showing in ’17.

No. 4 seeded Garden Plain improved to 20-4 and into its eighth final in school history.

The Owls won titles in ’78, ’95 and ’01 before last year. GP will face Sterling in the 4 p.m. finals Saturday. The Owls defeated Sterling, 56-48, on Dec. 13 in a Heart of America/Central Plains League cross-over game, and 62-47 last year.

“Kids played tough,” Kasselman said. “I mean, we were dog tired, I kept telling them like, ‘We are not tired. We will get tired on Sunday, so hopefully we will have a little juice left in the tank for tomorrow, but kids played hard.”

No. 3 seed Sterling opened 3-4. The Black Bears have won 18 in row and stands at 21-4 after the 67-49 semifinals victory against WaKeeney-Trego.

“I am sure they have improved,” Sterling coach Jill Rowland said. “They are well-coached. They are long, they are athletic, but yeah, we are excited for a rematch. I mean, it’s just going to be a fun day tomorrow, so we are just going to enjoy it, and take it at them, and leave everything that we have got on the floor, and see what happens.”

Top-seeded Wabaunsee had tallied 91 points in the state quarterfinals before GP held it to 37 percent shooting. The Chargers dropped to 21-4 and into Saturday’s third-place game.

Puetz, who played 19 minutes with five points and six rebounds, left immediately after the game with her parents. A dentist was in attendance. Puetz expected to have the tooth reset and be ready for Saturday’s final.

“Garden Plain is a highly competitive community, and our kids just don’t say die,” Kasselman said. “I mean, I don’t care who it is, we are going to go out and compete, and that’s the only way I can say it. They don’t let each other down, and really get squabbly. Some teams, they get after each other when the chips are down, and our kids just bear down, come together and go to work.”

In Puetz’s stead, Horacek came off the bench and hit two huge treys and finished with eight points in 15 minutes. Horacek missed half the year with a stress fracture and has to wear a back brace. She sunk four treys in the regular season before two in the sub-state finale. Horacek didn’t score in the state-opening win versus West Elk.

The first one came with 2:57 left in regulation and closed the deficit to 42-41.

“When I throw it up there, I just think, ‘Go in,’” Horacek said. “Because I know it’s in a big moment, and it just needs to get in the basket.”

Then, senior Lauren Danahy (game-high 20 points) delivered a game-tying 3 to send the game to overtime at 47. In the OT, Danahy made a free throw seven seconds into the period for a 48-47 advantage, GP’s first lead since 10-9.

“We just got super fired up, and everybody was ready, just go get them,” Horacek said. “… We just have to keep pushing and even when we are down, we have to remember what we are here for.”

Horacek bumped the lead to 51-47 with 2:55 left with her second trey.

“They had some kids make some timely shots that hurt us,” Wabaunsee coach Shanna Perine said. “And kids that I don’t normally do for them – make timely shots. I think we did a pretty good job of controlling the kids that we knew could hurt us.”

Wabaunsee received another exceptional effort from Oliver, a Washburn signee. She collected 19 points and 10 rebounds. However, Owl senior guard Kara Heimerman played great defense on Hutley. She finished 3 of 12 for 11 points.

Garden Plain led 54-51 with 15 seconds to go. Wabaunsee dribbled the ball down, and then the officials mistakenly called a timeout for the Chargers.

“I did not call a timeout,” Perine said. “I told my assistant to get a play drawn up, was going to wait for it to get a little bit closer, so obviously the ball is on the other side of half court. I can’t run a side out play from the other side of half court, so yeah, that hurt a little bit.”

Wabaunsee inbounded the ball and set up a play for Hutley. She was heavily guarded and had to pass the ball to junior Megan Hosler. She missed an off-balance shot, and Wabaunsee fouled GP with .1 second left, effectively sealing the victory.

“We have two screens for her, and she can make one that is eight feet behind that arc,” Perine said. “And I wanted her to shoot that one.”

Wabaunsee led 11-10 after the first quarter and bumped the lead to 24-20 at halftime and 28-25 when Puetz left the contest. The Chargers led 32-29 entering the fourth quarter.

“Coach Kasselman was like, ‘We are going to do it for her,’” junior Abby Gordon, who finished with six points and a team-high seven rebounds, said. “That gives us another reason to push harder and do it for her, and to not worry about her.”

Most squads play zone versus the Chargers, but GP virtually exclusively used man after a matchup zone in the West Elk win.

The Owls heavily focused on Oliver – whom they tried to trap every time – and Hutley. They let several other Chargers have open looks. Perine said the man look “kind of got us out of rhythm a little bit.”

“If they would have beat us with those players hitting shots, then it was their day,” Kasselman said. “We weren’t going to let their best players beat us, at least that was the goal.”

Garden Plain held Wabaunsee to 31 percent (8 of 26) shooting in the second half/overtime. GP led 53-51 in OT, and Wabaunsee had four shots and missed all four.

Then, Oliver, with 51 points at state, drew a foul but missed two free throws. GP’s defense on Hutley on the final possession delivered the win.

Sterling’s underclassmen with big numbers versus WaKeeney-Trego

WaKeeney-Trego Community had rose to the top of the Class 2A rankings behind a squelching defense that permitted just 33 points a contest. The Golden Eagles’ man-to-man defense had permitted its last two opponents, Plainville and Stanton County, to shoot under 25 percent.

On Friday, Sterling’s pace and talented underclassmen delivered easily the best statistical offensive effort versus the Golden Eagles all season in a 67-49 victory in the state semifinals. Sterling led 33-20 at halftime, shot 53 percent overall and had three players in double figures.

Sterling likes to play faster than the Golden Eagles, and the game finished with around 60 possessions, a tempo much more suited for the Black Bears. Rowland had several scouting reports that said the keys against Trego are pressure and running the ball.

“That’s just who we are,” Rowland said. “We don’t play well when we try to slow things down.”

Trego had permitted 53 points against Norton on Jan. 19, and 48 to Ellis on Feb. 12, both overtime games. The Golden Eagles had not allowed more than 44 in a regulation game.

In the state-opening victory against Jackson Heights, No. 3 seed Sterling had just seven of its 66 points from seniors.

On Friday, the Black Bears received 59 of 67 points from non-seniors. The No. 3 seed, Sterling won its 18th straight contest and improved to 21-4. No. 2 seed WaKeeney, in the final four for the first time in 42 years, dropped to 20-4.

“They hit shots,” Trego coach Donnie Shubert said. “They pushed us around on the inside. We were flat.”

Sterling has never won a state title, though reached the finals in ’90 and ’99. Rowland said the team’s word this year was “hope.”

“Early we were 3-4, and I will be real honest, we were not very good,” Rowland said. “And fundamentally not very good. Transition defense was bad, some basic things. I scratched my head going, ‘Wow, I have got a lot of work to do.’ The thing with a young group is that you can better in a season. …Just kept hoping that we would get better, and hope for the team that we could be, and I had all sorts of kids by in.”

Junior Kinzie Comley finished with 19 points and four blocks. Freshman reserve Makenna Linden delivered her second straight double figure game with 15 points. Freshman point guard Kali Briar, a starter since the day one, finished with 11 points and four assists.

“I can’t say enough superlatives about them,” Shubert said.

Trego sophomore Lili Shubert tallied 23 points.

Sterling shot 16 of 28 (57 percent) from inside the arc, and went 23 of 33 from the foul line. Stanton County was 2 of 14 and 14 of 28 from the foul line in Trego’s first state game.

“We really want to play inside out,” Rowland said. “Our posts have to score for us, and I thought they did a good job. We said, ‘You better take it up.’