AUGUSTA — Desperate to control the tempo and rally from a deficit that was slowly becoming insurmountable, Circle's girls basketball team intensified its defense in the third quarter Friday night against Hesston.
No amount of intensity was going to affect what happened in the final seconds of the third. Hesston guard Ashley Weaver corraled the ball well behind the three-point line just before the buzzer and fired, swishing a shot that helped the Swathers regroup and carried them to a 51-40 win in the semifinals of a Class 4A sub-state.
Hesston advances to tonight's final to meet Haven, a 41-25 winner over Buhler in Friday's other semifinal.
"Huge momentum swing," Hesston coach Matt Richardson said. "It's one of those things that gets you back on track and gets you going again."
After outscoring Circle 16-6 in the second quarter, which it closed on a 13-2 run, Hesston scored the first basket of the third to take a 29-20 lead.
In the first half, Hesston passed up several open shots to take even better ones, and the Swathers' patience dictated the pace. Finding themselves in a hole, the Thunderbirds began to climb out by speeding up Hesston with more focused pressure.
Hesston had five turnovers in the third quarter, matching its first-half total, and scored four points in the first 6:34 of the quarter.
"We want to try to play an aggressive, up-tempo game," Circle coach Brian Henry said. "They do a perfect job, to their credit, of taking care of the ball. We were able to get some of our traps within our press but they were able to make some passes over the top of us and beat us."
The extra effort seemed to wear down Circle. The Thunderbirds' 13-2 run in the third gave them a 32-31 lead with 1:38 to go, but Hesston scored the final seven points of the quarter, including Weaver's three-pointer at the buzzer.
"That was awesome," Weaver said. "I had no idea it was going to go in."
Weaver's 18 points gave Hesston a significant advantage on the perimeter, but the Swathers' edge in the paint was even bigger.
Laci McCartney (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Samantha Short (12 points, 13 rebounds) each notched double-doubles while frustrating Circle forwards Hanna Flaming and Kyrstie Ehm.
Ehm made 4 of 14 shots and Flaming attempted three shots in the second half while being held to two rebounds.
"(Flaming is) a very athletic girl," Richardson said. "We knew if we could keep her far-enough away from the basket.... it would be tough for her to score. She's a whale of an athlete, and so is Miss Ehm, and trying to keep those two away from the basket is tough to do."
Hesston (16-6) 11 16 11 13 — 51 Circle (15-6) 14 6 12 8 — 40
HESSTON: Nebel 7, Weaver 18, Spencer 4, McCartney 10, Short 12. Totals 16 (4) 15-18 51.
CIRCLE: Hon 7, Flaming 10, Ehm 12, Kifer 1, Barrett 8, Morton 2. Totals 14 (1) 11-17 40.