One could see it coming: a contest between two evenly matched squads who were virtual mirror images of one another with a state berth on the line… What was to be expected other than a low-scoring, nail-biting, close-to-the –vest game?
That’s exactly what fans of the 3rd seeded 16-5 Hugoton Lady Eagles and the 4th seeded 13-9 Pratt Lady Greenbacks were treated to on Saturday night at PHS. Pratt emerged with their second upset win in as many nights, punching their ticket to a second consecutive performance at the state tournament by eking out a hard-fought 35-27 victory in the sub-state finals.
Both teams featured bigs in the middle, quick guards and a penchant for playing defense. In some respects, the teams had to feel that they were playing against themselves. That fact made it tough for the coaches. Pratt High head coach Dean Rausch expressed that dilemma, saying, “You go to put together a game plan, and you say, where are the mismatches? And because the teams are so similar, it’s hard to find any. We knew going in the game was going to be close and tight.”
In the end, it came down to execution, and the Greenbacks were able to make some big plays when it counted the most.
The scoring started slowly as both teams were tight with so much riding on the outcome. Both sides were playing tough defense, with shots in the paint getting rejected by the defending bigs and longer range efforts missing the mark. Neither side could break the ice until Paige Bailey slipped behind the Eagle defense and scored a lay-up on the pressbreaker at the 4:00 mark. But Hugoton then went on a 7-0 run and seemed to be taking charge of the game. Jenson Maydew hit two FT to close out the 1st quarter with Pratt trailing 7-4.
PHS fought back in the second quarter, taking the ball to the hoop and getting to the foul line—Maydew, Whitney Tilley and Bailey connecting from the charity stripe in Q2. The Frogs were also finally able to get some jumpers to fall. Kelsey Smith-Potter and Maydew each connected, and then Stonie Flemming gave PHS the lead going into intermission by draining a 3 as time ran out. 16-14 Pratt at the break.
The third quarter saw Hugoton regain the momentum, relentlessly driving the lane and either scoring or getting fouled. Meanwhile, Pratt could only manage 3 FT from Maydew and a long ball from Payton Hoeme. The Eagles had recaptured the lead heading into the deciding stanza, 26-24.
With the tension in the gym so thick you could cut it with a knife, neither side managed much offense at the beginning of the fourth frame. Maydew got a couple of free throws to drop and Pratt had tied the game at 24 with 5:48 left. Both teams went back and forth ineffectually until Martha Ramos made one of the game’s biggest plays with 4:00 minutes to go.
Page 2 of 2 - Ramos picked the Hugoton ballhandler’s pocket at midcourt and raced in for a lay-up that would give Pratt the lead for good. “We call Martha ‘The Ninja’,” Coach Rausch reported. “She just sneaks up on you quietly.” It was Ramos’ only 2 points of the game, but there were none any bigger.
Down the stretch, the Frogs inside game finally began to click. Hugoton’s tall girl, 6-1 senior Nicole Kinser, had picked up her 4th foul, and she could not be as aggressive in trying to block shots inside. Pratt took advantage, with Payton Hoeme getting two buckets to fall and Maydew also scoring in the paint.
“She (Kinser) had been blocking our inside shots, but we still had to take the ball at her,” Rausch explained. “We were trying to get movement on the ball, but we still wanted to take it inside.”
Meanwhile, Pratt’s defense had clamped down and only allowed 3 points to Hugoton over the final 8 minutes. Pratt had established a 32-27 lead with 1:38 left. That put Hugoton behind the 8-ball, and their offensive efforts became more desperate. Pratt was able to handle the Eagles’ defensive pressure, Haylie Hook breaking loose for a lay-up in transition and Maydew converting from the free throw line.
When the dust settled, Pratt had a 35-27 win in a game that was even closer than the final score might indicate— and another ticket to Salina in their pocket.
Two things may have made the difference in the contest between such evenly matched teams. The Greenbacks’ bench was a little bit deeper, with Rausch able to juggle 10 players, 8 of whom contributed points. The Eagles only had 6 different players put up points. Secondly, if there was one Pratt player the Hugotons had no answer for except to foul her, it was Jenson Maydew— who led all scorers with 14 points, 10 of which came from the free throw line.
With a record of 14-9, Pratt will be the 8th seed at State, facing 22-1 #1 seed Wamego on Thursday at 3:00 p.m. at Salina’s Bicentennial Center. Pratt will be an underdog, to be sure, but they come into the state tournament on a roll— having won 4 of their last 5 and notching upsets over highly regarded Andale and favored Hugoton. Anyone counting the Lady Greenbacks out does so at his own peril.
Pratt 4 12 6 13 35
Hugo 7 7 10 3 27
Bailey 3; Hook 2; Tilley 2; Flemming 3; Ramos 2; Hoeme 7; Jenson Maydew 14; Smith-Potter 2