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Hays High hangs on for tourney title

By AUSTIN COLBERT
acolbert@dailynews.net

Senior guard Kyler Niernberger used the word “embarrassing” to describe the Indians’ free-throw shooting on Saturday against
Garden City in the championship game of the Gerald Mitchell Hays City Shootout.

The Hays High School boys’ basketball team still pulled out a 57-53 win, but it didn’t have to be as nail biting as it was.

“We let them back in,” Hays High senior guard Lane Clark said. “It was a battle until the end. Those games are always exciting. But it would have been a lot easier if we just would have made free throws.”

Despite making only 13 of 33 free-throw attempts, including  2 of 12 fourth quarter, the Indians held on to win the tournament for the second year in a row and for the seventh time in its 31-year history.

For most of the first half, it looked as if Hays High (3-0) would run away with the game. The Indians led 19-10 after a quarter and after the Buffaloes cut it to six early in the second quarter, Hays High stepped on the gas pedal. A pair of 3-pointers from Clark was sandwiched around a Clayton Riedel basket to give the Indians a 15-point lead.

Hays High led 36-22 at halftime.

“I told the guys in the locker room to never apologize for winning ugly,” Hays High coach Rick Keltner said. “But by the same token let’s try to not have to win ugly.”

Jordan Windholz opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer for Hays High, pushing the lead to 17 points. But a 10-0 run by Garden City (2-1) cut the Indians’ lead to only eight points at 45-37 entering the fourth quarter.

“They made a lot of big shots,” said Clark, who led the Indians with 18 points, including four 3-pointers. Clark also was 6 of 6 from the foul line. “They made a lot of threes. They were making their free throws and we weren’t. We have to make shots in order to beat teams and they made a comeback because they were making shots.”

The fourth quarter started ominously for Hays High when junior Brady Werth missed the front end of a one-and-one, a sign of things to come from the foul line.

Garden City kept taking advantage of missed opportunities by the Indians and cut the Hays High lead to 56-53 with less than a minute remaining after making a pair of free throws.

The Hays High defense did the rest, shutting the door on Garden City, which couldn’t get the ball to drop in the final seconds of the game. And the Indians know they got lucky after making only 1 of 8 free throws in the final 40 seconds.

“In practice we seem to make them. Emotions maybe? I don’t know. It was embarrassing,” Niernberger said of the shooting. “We felt we could have performed a little bit better and improve on a couple aspects of the game, but we stayed together and came together as a team to win.”

Niernberger was one of three Hays High players named to the all-tournament team, joining Werth, Windholz and Thomas More Prep-Marian’s Cameron Fouts.

“I didn’t see that coming,” Niernberger said. “I was kind of shocked when they said my name. I did a double take to make sure it was me. But it feels great.”

The most inspirational player award went to Windholz, who battled back from a torn ACL injury suffered last winter.

Werth finished with 10 points, his third straight game in double figures, despite going 0 of 5 from the free-throw line.

Mitchell Hernandez led Garden City with 14 points, followed by 13 from Tristan Nanninga and 10 from Caleb Tramp.

“I want to give them credit without a doubt. They came back and it was an exciting championship game and an ugly win for us,” Keltner said. “Our goal is to win the day, and today we won the day … I feel pretty good about that. We had three days where we won the day. We did some good things, we did some things we have to work on and you find out in three days good and bad, and we found out good and bad.

“But the fact is we won the day three days in a good tournament and we can work from here on.”

Hays High 57, Garden City 53
Garden City (2-1)
Mitchell Hernandez 4 3-4 14, Tristan Nanninga 6 1-3 13, Caleb Tramp 4 2-2 10, Koster 3 0-0 7, Delgado 1 0-0 3, Zapata 1 0-0 2, Parr 0 2-2 2, Rodriguez 1 0-0 2
Hays High (3-0)
Lane Clark 4 6-6 18, Brady Werth 5 0-5 10, Windholz 3 1-3 9, Nunnery 3 1-5 7,  Berens 2 1-4 5, Riedel 1 1-2 3, Niernberger 1 0-2 2, Parker 0 2-4 2, Rounkles 0 1-2 1
Garden City 10  12  15  16 — 53
Hays High 19  17  9  12 — 57
3-point goals — Garden City 5 (Hernandez 3), Hays High 6 (Clark 4). Team fouls — Garden City 23, Hays High 15