DODGE CITY, Kan. - In Coldwater-South Central girls’ basketball coach Tim Rietzke’s eyes, poise is formed with experience and practice.
The Timberwolves have veterans with its senior trio of Tyra Snyder, Bri Rutherford and Jordyn Jellison. The latter two are highly acclaimed players who have helped the T-Wolves reach back-to-back state final fours.
As well, Rietzke has practices that are more challenging than the games. On Saturday, the poise yielded a 44-40 victory against Montezuma-South Gray in the Southern Plains Iroquois midseason tournament championship game at United Wireless Arena. It marked SC’s third consecutive league tournament title.
“They get (upset) when I really bear down, make them work in practice, and they do something like tonight, this is three in a row,” Rietzke said. “They do something like tonight, they forget about it, it all goes away, but at the time it’s happening, you are not very popular.”
South Central defeated South Gray, 48-38, on Dec. 18. The T-Wolves moved to 13-2 under Rietzke, who has coached for more than 40 seasons. SC has not lost a league contest since a 52-50 overtime loss to Kiowa County on Dec. 13, 2016.
“Trying to follow that path that the team before us made,” Jellison said. “Just coming back after it, I guess. Him making it harder, it does help, because then we have to fight harder in practice. We learn how to do it. We get tougher from there, then we can just play during the game. We don’t have to worry about being tough in the game when we already know how to do it during practice.”
The Rebels dropped to 10-4 and have lost all four contests by narrow margins.
“We were toe to toe with South Central, and they are one of the best teams in 1A,” SG coach Paul Clancy said. “We have got a good team. We’ve just got to learn how to close, and how to have more poise. When things are going tough, we have got to have better poise. We have had that, but South Central has got a way of distracting that.”
SG briefly led 36-35 with 4 minutes and 30 seconds left. South Central had a 43-40 advantage with 15.3 seconds remaining, but the Rebels turned the ball over twice.
“Our girls played extremely hard,” Clancy said. “We are a young team, and we missed several opportunities. … We have been beat four times this year, and every one of these games we should have won.”
The first turnover, South Gray completed a baseball pass to midcourt to junior Christy Wiebe, the Rebels’ next pass went out of bounds.
“We just didn’t execute at the end of the game like we were supposed to execute,” Clancy said.
After the T-Wolves missed two free throws, the Rebels had an opportunity to tie with a 3. SG, though, passed the ball into the lane, and it went out of bounds.
“We had plays drawn up to get the ball up the court, and we had open 3s, and we tried to throw it underneath for 2s,” Clancy said. “And you aren’t going to win it at that point. We needed 3s.”
Rutherford then sunk a foul shot for the final margin.
“Nothing is free,” Rietzke said. “South Gray played great. They played physical. They played hard. It was just a game where two or three plays were probably going to decide the game, which is what happened.”
South Gray led 14-9 after the first quarter and the contest was tied at 20 at halftime. South Central led 31-29 into the final eight minutes.
“I feel like we missed probably six or seven wide-open shots under the basket,” Clancy said. “I mean, that puts the lead way up. South Central is a great team. You cannot make mistakes against South Central. They are a senior-laden team. They have been in tight games before, and they know how to win, and our girls are still young, and we are still trying to get to that level.”
After the Rebels took the 36-35 lead, T-Wolves’ freshman Hadley Lohrding made two huge baskets. Along with the three seniors, SC started freshmen Lohrding and Sierra Jellison.
“They have stepped up,” Jellison said. “We needed them this year, so really proud of them for stepping up and coming after it.”
It marked the first time Lohrding had started this winter. She is expected to play point guard once Rutherford graduates, but Rietzke started her at power forward because of the team’s need. Lohrding tallied all six of her points in the fourth quarter.
First, Rutherford made a great look down low to Lohrding, who scored for a 37-36 lead with 3:06 remaining. Throughout the contest, Rietzke was uncertain what defense he wanted to run and often switched schemes every few possessions. Late, though, Rietzke went to man-to-man.
“What I trusted more than anything,” Rietzke said.
Off the man defense, Lohrding delivered a steal and drove down for a wide-open layup and a 39-36 advantage. Then, Rutherford delivered another steal. One of the state’s top players, Rutherford averages 23.6 points per contest.
She has battled a bad cold throughout the week and affected her endurance. She still collected a game-high 21 points and had seven steals. South Gray finished with 21 turnovers, while South Central had just five.
“She has got the heart of a champion,” Rietzke said.
Next, Jellison collected a defensive rebound and made two free throws to bump the lead to 41-36. The lean 6-foot Jellison, headed to Sterling College to play volleyball, finished with 13 points and eight rebounds. She battled against South Gray senior post Hannah Askew, who led her squad with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
“She realizes tonight and in the semifinal game, Jordyn is not the strongest post player in the league,” Rietzke said. “But she got a lot of rebounds in traffic for us, and that’s something we need her to do, and that’s her role on the team, so that’s the whole idea of a team, you might not like your role that you have, but you have to fill it, and for the most part, players have accepted that.”
South Gray scored to cut the deficit to 41-40, before Lohrding sunk two free throws. SG, with the two turnovers, never scored again.
“A knockdown, drag out, and we were fortunate, we came out making a couple more plays than they did,” Rietzke said. “So I feel very lucky to have won the game, and I am proud of my team, especially playing two freshmen, so that’s only going to make them better. South Gray has got a great team. They play really physical.”