Pettijohn, Stauffer lead Thunder Ridge to sub-state final

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WAKEENEY, Kan. - Thunder Ridge senior Layne Pettijohn sunk four treys in the first half, including three in the first quarter, and helped the Longhorns build a lead against Otis-Bison. When the Cougars made a big run late, senior Mariah Stauffer had 10 of her 12 points in the fourth quarter.

Pettijohn and Stauffer led a strong all-around effort and helped Thunder Ridge defeat Otis-Bison, 49-40, on Thursday night in a Class 1A sub-state semifinal contest at WaKeeney-Trego Community High School. TR had to play the majority of the fourth quarter without 6-foot-1 senior standout post Libby Hardacre. She fouled out with 3 minutes, 41 seconds left.

The win also atoned for Thunder Ridge’s loss to Otis-Bison in the Class 1A sub-state volleyball championship four months ago. Both teams had virtually the same cast of players, including Hardacre and Pettijohn. Otis-Bison had its strong interior of juniors Cora Anderson and Maddie Wiltse (24 points, 10 rebounds) back again.

“Adrenaline and excitement,” Stauffer said. “We came out of the game just ready to go, because we had been preparing for it for a really long time.”

During the week, Grauerholz didn’t bring up the volleyball loss. At Tuesday’s practice, several days after the brackets were announced, TR discussed how they were going to guard Wiltse.

Junior Brennan Kirchhoff recalled Wiltse from volleyball and mentioned it to the team. Hardacre then remembered Wiltse. Both Wiltse and Hardacre are two-time all-state selections in volleyball.

“Then it finally dawned on her who we were playing,” Grauerholz said. “She really didn’t know up at that point. She was just like, ‘Oh, Otis-Bison, OK.’ Didn’t register with her. So it was not something that I said, ‘Hey, this is your revenge night,’ or anything like that at all. I wanted to go out and say, ‘Let’s go play our game, and just do what we need to do.’”

Thunder Ridge improved to 20-2, and Otis-Bison ended the season at 20-4. TR will face Rexford-Golden Plains (24-0) in Saturday’s championship game. Thunder Ridge has made state two of the last three seasons with a fourth-place finish in Class 1A, Division I last year.

“We were definitely ready for today,” Stauffer said.

The Cougars battled sickness throughout the week, notably to junior point guard Cristen Trapp and Anderson.

“We couldn’t really play aggressive towards the end, because I didn’t know how much reserves they were going to have,” Otis-Bison coach Bobby Trapp said.

Wiltse had just seven points in the first half, and TR denied the passing lane well inside early with Hardacre.

Overall, Thunder Ridge was plus-4 on the glass and forced 23 turnovers. Wiltse has averaged a double-double this year.

“The biggest thing to our success was keeping Wiltse from scoring,” Grauerholz said. “And our defense was going to turn into some offensive points, and it did, but it wasn’t as many as I was hoping for.”

Thunder Ridge trailed 7-6 early before Pettijohn hit her third straight trey, all from the same spot on the right side of the arc.

“It’s just the way our offense is set up,” Pettijohn said. “If we get a few quick passes, that’s spot is just open, and we shoot that spot a lot in practice, so we all are good at shooting at that spot.”

TR led the rest of the way.

“The biggest thing is we had a lot of patience offensively, and that’s something that typically we don’t do,” Grauerholz said. “We usually like to attack the rim quite a bit, and that was one thing that they took away from us tonight, but it was really good to see Pettijohn hit them from outside. That was huge for us.”

The Longhorns finished 6 of 19 from beyond the arc, and Pettijohn, a Kansas Wesleyan basketball commit, went 5 of 8 shooting, 5 of 7 from the long range, including a banked in 3 for her second make. She was 4 of 7 from the free throw line and led with 19 points, 12 in the first half.

Pettijohn’s third 3 started an 8-0 run that helped the Longhorns lead 22-12 at halftime and 34-18 entering the fourth quarter.

“We just didn’t do a good job of closing out on them, or putting any pressure on them at all early, and they did bank one in, and all that just seems to snowball more for them,” Trapp said. “They got that confidence going early.”

In the fourth quarter, Hardacre picked up her third foul at the 7:28 mark and fourth one 26 seconds later. She came back into the game briefly before fouling out. O-B, behind Wiltse, cut the deficit to 39-34 with 2:37 left.

However, Stauffer responded with eight points down the stretch. An excellent high jumper and Fort Hays track signee, Stauffer battled back problems all fall and missed virtually all of volleyball.

She returned for the Otis-Bison loss, and then missed all of basketball before Christmas, which included Thunder Ridge’s only two losses, to Beloit-St. John’s/Tipton and Plainville. Stauffer has been healthier recently and jumped 5-4 at a recent indoor meet in Kearney, Neb.

She moved back into the starting lineup at the end of January after TR won its sixth straight league tournament title. Stauffer still hurts some after contests but routinely sees the chiropractor.

“Get better for each game,” Stauffer said.

The 5-9 Stauffer and 5-11 junior Jaden Boden played well inside with Hardacre out, while Kirchhoff, 5-3 with good leaping ability, played solidly, too. Stauffer sunk two free throws for a 41-34 lead, and then had a steal and made three straight shots to bump the lead back to double figures.

“You can’t just guard one of us,” Pettijohn said. “If they guard one of us, then Mariah will get on, and we have a lot of different weapons on our team. Yeah, we have a good bench, and that’s what makes us better in practice, too, is we have people to practice against.”