Hays downs rival Great Bend to return to 5A state

GREAT BEND, Kan. – Once upon a time the Great Bend and Hays High School basketball teams could fill a gymnasium as part of a fierce rivalry. With some one-sided games in recent years, the rivalry cooled off prior to the 2019-20 season. Then the two schools split games by a combined six points and split shares of the Western Athletic Conference title. Even more was on the line in Friday’s third meeting: a trip to state.

With a pair of 3-pointers from senior Alex Schremmer, the Panthers took a 14-13 lead three minutes into the second quarter. Great Bend went without a field goal for the next 14 minutes and Hays was able to overcome the hostile environment to win 43-36.

“It’s crazy. It means everything,” said junior Indian Dalyn Schwarz. “It’s what we dreamed of when we first stepped in the gym this summer. We knew it was going to be tough and nothing was going to be given to us. We just had to grind everything out and work hard for everything we got.”

The Indians controlled the glass and paint early with three offensive rebounds from senior Dylan Ruder just 80 seconds in. He scored 25 seconds in but the Panthers charged back for an 8-6 lead after a 3-pointer from junior Cal Dunekack.

Great Bend trailed 12-8 after one quarter before Schremmer knocked down his back-to-back treys to open the second quarter. The Panthers made just three of their 23 attempts from the floor in the middle quarters. They did not score any points in an 11-minute stretch, and they went without a field goal for nearly 13 minutes. By then the Indians led 30-15.

“We wanted to stay up on shooters on the 3-point line and rebound hard,” said Hays sophomore Carson Kieffer. “We just had a few lapses and guys didn’t close out hard enough. We got it done the rest of the way though.”

Hays eventually took the lead on a basket from sophomore Jace Linenberger with three minutes to play in the first half. He added another basket in the paint 50 seconds later. The Indians pulled ahead 18-14 at the break.

With Great Bend’s scoring woes continuing, junior TJ Nunnery opened the second half with a pair of free throws. Junior Jason Krannawitter followed with a steal that resulted in a free throw. Kieffer entered the night averaging just seven points a game. He scored seven of his team-high 13 points in the third quarter alone as the Indians opened up a 32-19 lead.

The Panthers clawed back to within fighting distance with another 3-pointer from Schremmer early in the fourth. When he missed senior Ray Kuhlman was there for the cleanup and a 35-26 score with 3:46 remaining. Kieffer, Krannawitter, and Nunnery all made free throws down the stretch to stave off the comeback.

Hays coach Alex Hutchins, who stepped into replace Rick Keltner after his 34 years of service to the school, is headed to Emporia after his Indians hang on for the 43-36 win.

Schremmer led all players with 15 points and senior Alex Olivas added six points for the Panthers. Great Bend opened its season at 4-3 before rattling off wins in 13 of its next 14 games. The only loss: a 64-62 thriller at Hays back in January. The Panthers, held to fewer than 40 points just three times this season, end the year at 17-5.

Kieffer paced the Indians with 13 points. Lineberger added nine points, and Nunnery just missed a double-double with 10 rebounds to go with his eight points. Krannawitter finished with six points. The Indians, with just two seniors and three juniors on the roster, take a 16-6 record to state.

“We ain’t done yet,” Schwarz said.

“I just want to have fun,” Kieffer added. “If we win, we win, but it will be a great experience.”