HAYS, Kan. - Liberal and Hays High boys were tied at five at the 2 minute, 49 second mark of the first quarter Saturday in a Western Athletic Conference contest. HHS standout junior guard T.J. Nunnery had two fouls, and the Indians’ rotation was different than anticipated. The teams had combined for just three made field goals.
“That’s WAC play,” Hays High coach Alex Hutchins said. “WAC games are usually kind of slow paced, kind of grit and grimy, almost football on a basketball court, and so that’s kind of what we got.”
Hays High, though, finished the first quarter on an 8-0 run, and never trailed the rest of the way en route to a 57-44 victory. HHS’ showcased its blend of talent, height, depth and team chemistry, notably in the third quarter. Hays High moved to 4-2, 1-0 in the WAC. Liberal dropped to 4-4, 1-1.
“We just picked up the intensity,” Nunnery said. “Stepped up, did what we had to do to get the lead.”
Hays High again had a distinct height advantage with 6-foot-10 senior post Dylan Ruder, and 6-6 junior Dalyn Schwarz, along with 6-5 sophomore Jace Linenberger.
Liberal lists no player on its roster taller than 6-3, and played without 6-3 senior Braxton Hyde, who averages seven points and six rebounds a game. Hays High finished plus-6 on the glass. Ruder is the Indians’ only starting senior. Junior Trey Adams (6-7) has recently left the team.
“We are young,” Hutchins said. “You kind of lose track of it just because I think there’s been a lot of expectations on this group because of the success they’ve had growing up. But we have got a lot of sophomores out on the court, and a lot of juniors.”
Hays High led 27-20 at halftime, and extended to 46-32 entering the fourth. Liberal finished 6 of 23 from 3-point range, though four of the treys came in the game’s final nine and a half minutes. Liberal was never closer than nine points in the fourth quarter. Senior Lee Hatcher led with 12 points.
“We switched things up defensively a little bit, went to more of a matchup zone,” Hutchins said. “Just to kind of muddy some of the decision making for Liberal, and I thought that was effective initially. Liberal did a really good job of adjusting and hitting shots as the game went on.”
Hays High received a career-high 18 points from Linenberger, along with 16 by Nunnery, and 10 by sophomore Carson Kieffer.
“Jace is strong,” Hutchins said. “He is a physical kid, and so he was a big part of that tonight with Dylan being in foul trouble, he gave us great minutes.”
Linenberger tallied the team’s final eight points in the third quarter. He entered with 3.4 points per contest.
“We also did probably the best job we did in the course of the game of getting the ball inside,” Hutchins said of the third. “Liberal does a great job of pressurizing you and trapping and flying around and negating their lack of size.”
Nunnery fouled out with 3:37 left in the contest. Sophomore Jordan Dale, who showed big improvement in the holiday break, played ample minutes. Schwarz and Ruder, the team’s captains, together average 19 points a game.
However, the duo combined for six points – all Schwarz free throws – yet collectively tallied 13 rebounds and three blocks. As well, Ruder found Linenberger on a nice high-low pass in the third quarter run.
“Jace and Jordan have done a really good job in practice of getting our coaching staff to where we are confident in what they are going to do for us out on the court,” Hutchins said. “…It was fun to see Jordan and Jace kind of not just be role players, but kind of step into a more significant role because of the foul trouble, and they did a great job for us tonight.”