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Hays High captures win at Dodge City

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

DODGE CITY -- Whatever force field keeping the Hays High School boys' basketball team from winning games in Dodge City has clearly faded away.

Less than a week after winning its first Dodge City Tournament of Champions title since 1955, Hays High snapped a six-game losing streak to Dodge City High School with a 55-36 win on Friday at the DCHS gymnasium.

It is the Indians' first win over Dodge City since the 2009-2010 season, a 56-49 win in Hays, and the first win at Dodge City High School since a 53-41 win on Feb. 16, 2008.

"We've won here before ... but it's just been a while. Dodge City has had some good teams in that time," Hays High coach Rick Keltner said. "Two years ago we were pretty young with a freshman post man and no seniors. I've done this long enough to know the big wheel turns if you just keep working and have good kids."

The Dodge City (4-7, 2-1 WAC) zone defense has given Hays High (13-0, 4-0 WAC) fits over the Red Demons' recent win streak. And for large parts of the game on Friday, nothing had changed.

Hays High, which averages only 10 turnovers a game, reached that number by halftime and trailed 13-12 after the first quarter.

"We were just not playing very smart ... we were trying to do more than we needed to do," Hays High senior guard Kyler Niernberger said. "When we came to the huddle after the first quarter and saw we were down, we knew we could play much better. So we came together as a team and did the things we needed to do."

After Dodge City took a 17-16 lead with 4:45 to play in the first half, Hays High found another gear led by its impenetrable defense. The Red Demons wouldn't score again in the half, and a 12-0 run gave the Indians a 28-17 lead at the break.

The run included a fast break, contested layup by Niernberger -- who tied a career high with eight points -- another easy, transition basket by sophomore Isaiah Nunnery, and an alley-oop dunk by junior Brady Werth from Niernberger.

Hays High, No. 1 in Class 5A, forced Dodge City into 10 turnovers and outscored the Red Demons 16-4 in the second quarter.

"Coach made a big emphasis on pressuring the ball and guarding our yard," Niernberger said. "I think defense created energy for our offense. If we can get a big steal or force a turnover we are more energized coming down the court."

The Hays High advantage remained 11 points after three quarters when another 12-0 run to begin the fourth quarter pushed the Indians' lead to 51-28 with 5:01 to play.

Much of Hays High's success in the second half came from the foul line. The Indians made 13 of their 27 second-half points from the free-throw line, going 16 of 19 for the game. On the other side, Dodge City couldn't get to the line, making five of seven attempts.

Werth and Windholz each led Hays High with 14 points, while sophomore Dayton McGroarty had 10 to lead the Red Demons.

The win keeps Hays High perfect on the year and gives the Indians' their first win as the No. 1-ranked team in the state since the 2000-2001 season, a 19-3 campaign for the Indians.

The win was also a nice distraction for Keltner, whose father passed away on Sunday in Wichita.

"My dad grew up on a dairy farm in Meade, Kansas, with his brothers. He is the last one except for his twin sister out of seven kids," said Keltner, who spent a lot of time in the Dodge City area as a child. "There are a lot of good people here. I'm also thankful to come back here and I'm thankful that I got to enjoy my dad for 86 years. I'm sure he is proud of me and I'm thankful for him."

Hays High will host Salina South on Tuesday, with the girls' start time at 6 p.m. with the boys' game to follow.