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Hays High boys state bound after win

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

Entering Friday's Class 5A sub-state championship game against Wichita-Bishop Carroll, Hays High School senior Lane Clark was the team's best free throw shooter by percentage, making 34 of 40 on the year.

But late in the game against Carroll, Clark did the unthinkable by missing five consecutive free throws. This led to BC coach Lonnie Lollar yelling "give him a hug" to the Hays High bench.

"It almost got laughable," HHS coach Rick Keltner said. "When you got Lane Clark missing five in a row, the stars are not aligned or something. I'm just thankful we didn't have to have them tonight. The defense wins even when you shoot poor free throws sometimes."

Despite going 20 of 34 from the foul line as a team -- including Clark's 3 for 8 night -- Hays High (22-0) used a 30-4 run and a near-perfect defense to dominate the Golden Eagles 55-38 in front of a packed crowd at the HHS gym.

The win sends the Indians to this week's Class 5A state championship tournament in Topeka. It is Hays High's fifth trip to state in 29 years under Keltner, the first time it has gone in back-to-back seasons.

"It feels really, really great because we worked hard all season," senior guard Jordan Windholz said. "It's pretty cool that we actually maintained an undefeated record, too. That was kind of in the back of the mind. But it's just a good feeling getting there."

Friday's game looked like it was going to be anything but a rout with Carroll (8-14) leading 7-5 after a quarter and 8-7 early in the second. The Eagles were intentionally slowing the game down and keeping Hays High out of its high-tempo offense.

Then senior guard Kyler Niernberger, who leads the Indians with 7.5 assists per game, found junior forward Brady Werth wide open under the basket for a dunk, the start of one of the best stretches of basketball Hays High has played all season.

"We got some energy and our defense was communicating," Windholz said. "When that stuff is going on and you got your crowd behind you, there is nothing better than that. That helped us out."

The Indians ended the first half on a 14-0 run and outscored Carroll 16-1 in the second quarter, the Eagles' only point coming from the foul line 88 seconds into the period. Carroll trailed 21-8 at halftime.

Hays High opened the second half with another Werth slam, this time an alley-oop from Niernberger off an inbound pass under the basket. The run reached 21-0 before BC made a pair of free throws at the 4:59 mark of the third quarter.

The Eagles finally got a field goal with 1:30 to play in the third quarter, ending a nearly two-quarter long drought. Before that basket, the Indians were on a 30-4 run and had led 37-12.

"I think our defense tonight was outstanding. I'm very proud of the way our kids talked and played defense," Keltner said. "If you are going to win any championships you got to play great defense. I thought we did that tonight. We just got to keep trying to get better."

The game slowed down in the fourth quarter and saw 25 combined free-throw attempts between the teams.

Werth and Windholz each led Hays High with 15 points, the only players in double figures for the Indians. Bishop Carroll was led by 11 points each from sophomore Patrick Carney and junior Connor Evans.

The Class 5A state quarterfinals will get underway on Wednesday at the Topeka-Kansas Expocentre, with the semifinals on Friday and final game Saturday.

Joining Hays High at state will be Goddard-Eisenhower (21-1), KC Washington (17-5), St. Thomas Aquinas (11-11), Wichita Heights (18-4), Salina Central (13-9), Topeka-Highland Park (21-1), and Lansing (22-0).

The full bracket will be revealed on Monday, with Hays High guaranteed no worse than a second seed.

"It's a huge step (getting the win). We all knew this game was now or never and we had to step up and play our game, and we did that," Werth said. "We are pretty much going to stick with the motto of the year, to win the day. And hopefully we can get three wins down there (in Topeka)."