HUTCHINSON — Hesston never really could deliver the true knockout punch of Council Grove in Friday’s Class 3A girls semifinal.
At the same time, however, the Swathers never were in any real danger of not reaching their first state championship game since 1985.
As it has been most of the season, Hesston’s defense was stifling. The Swathers held Council Grove to eight field goals and set up a rematch with Central Kansas League-rival Lyons in Saturday’s 4 p.m. title game with a rather routine 42-27 victory over Council Grove.
“We’ve always been a defensive team, and that’s what we’ve done all year,” Hesston coach Matt Richardson said. “We’ve held a number of teams under 30 points. We did a great job of working hard and our team defense is a big part of our repertoire.”
Hesston (24-1) beat Lyons 43-35 on Jan. 7 after trailing early in the game. The Lions have won 15 of 17 games since, however, and Richardson fully expects Saturday’s title game to be nothing short of a battle.
“They’re deep and a really good team just like we are,” Richardson said. “It just goes to show you how good our league was. We had three teams tie for second and we were fortunate enough to sneak through unscathed and win it. ... They pretty much have everything a team needs.”
Hesston had everything it needed to match up well with Council Grove, able to offset the Braves’ inside tandem of Megan Poole and Kate Hula with Caylee Richardson and Kelsey Unruh. In fact, Unruh took early control of the matchup, scoring seven of her team-high 11 points in the first quarter as the Swathers grabbed an early 14-9 lead.
Caylee Richardson added nine points and nine rebounds while the duo held Poole and Hula to 16 points, with Hula getting 12 of those.
The real shutdown defensively, however, came on Council Grove freshman guard Faith Brintle, who went 0 of 12 from the floor and 0 of 7 on three-pointers after scoring 13 in the Braves’ quarterfinal win.
Hesston lead 25-18 at halftime and steadily pulled away in the second half. Council Grove made 3 of 17 field goals in the second half, finishing the game 8 of 36 overall and 1 of 13 on threes.
Thanks to a smothering performance by their full-court press, the Lions got their wish.
“They wanted it bad,” said Lyons coach Leanne Hollinger, whose team led the first meeting with Hesston by double digits at one point. “Knowing that we’ve played them and had them down, and that we’re playing so much better now than we were at that point in the season. They’re ready to go get them.”
After tweaking its press to knock off top-seeded Riley County in Thursday’squarterfinals, Lyons (17-8) made the seamless transition back to its normal set up and enjoyed the same success. Nemaha Valley had turnovers on its first three possessions and though the Lions couldn’t turn them into points, it set the tone for the game.
In all, Lyons forced the Raiders into 26 turnovers and scored 19 points off of them. In a game where neither team shot better than 28 percent, the Lions’ 11-point edge in getting points off turnovers proved huge.
“They’re good at it and that’s the best press we’ve seen all year,” Nemaha Valley coach Hadden Hiltgen said. “I thought we’d handle it a bit better and we didn’t, but that’s a credit to them.”
Despite stifling Nemaha’s offense, the Lions didn’t get much separation until late in the first half, when Aubrey Hollinger’s basket started a 6-1 run to end the half that gave Lyons a 17-12 halftime lead.
It was the closing run in the third quarter that put Lyons in complete control. Hollinger buried a three-pointer and Brenna McClure followed with a steal and layup as the Lions went on an 11-0 spurt to build a 15-point lead that only dipped to single digits in the final minute.
Hollinger led the Lions with 14 points, while McClure added 12 points, six rebounds, five assists and seven steals. Jaci Swart scored 12 and Rachael Baumgartner added 11 for the Raiders.