HUTCHINSON — Matt Richardson had a simple message for his Hesston girls team Saturday.
“It’s a league game tonight, just a different venue and a different environment,” Richardson said. “Do what we do.”
Technically, Richardson was right, though maybe a bit understated. Instead of facing Central Kansas League foe Lyons for bragging rights or a league crown, the clash was for the Class 3A championship in the Sports Arena.
With the stakes at their highest, the Swathers did what they’ve done all season. They won.
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Overcoming a slow start for the second straight time against Lyons, Hesston took control of the game with an 11-3 edge in the third quarter and fought off the Lions for a 46-36 victory. The state title was the first for the program after second-place finishes in 1982 and 1985.
“This was awesome,” Richardson said. “Our league is so great and then we go over to the Hillsboro Tournament and see great competition there. It just does a great job of preparing us for these kind of situations.”
Hesston finished the season 25-1 with the lone loss to Class 4A Division I runner-up Wamego. Lyons, which entered the tourney as the No. 8 seed before knocking off top-seeded Riley County and Nemaha Valley on its way to its first-ever title game, ended 17-9.
“We’d have liked a better outcome,” Lyons coach Leanne Hollinger said. “But we got here when we weren’t supposed to. I think everybody overlooked us because of our eight losses, but we played well and never gave up.”
In the Jan. 7 meeting between the league rivals, Lyons led by double digits early before falling 43-35. Saturday’s rematch was nearly a duplicate as the Lions got out quickly once again as Aubrey Hollinger hit a pair of early three-pointers and then finished the quarter with three free throws after being fouled, giving Lyons an 11-7 lead at the break.
But just like the first meeting, the early deficit didn’t faze Hesston. The Swathers scored the first 12 points of the third quarter, holding Lyons scoreless until Hollinger nailed back-to-back three-pointers with just more than three minutes to go.
They might have been huge if they hadn’t simply been answers to a pair of threes from Hesston’s Megan Voth, who burned a packed in Lions zone and opened things up for the Swathers the rest of the way.
“That was definitely a momentum booster,” said Voth, who finished with three three-pointers and 10 points. “My teammates always tell me, ‘Megan, you’re so obsessed with shooting.’ And yeah, I like to shoot.”
“Megan’s been one of those clutch players all year,” Richardson said. “In fact, when we took a team survey, they wanted her to be the one to take the clutch three or free throws at the end of the season.”
Hesston’s defensive performance in the second quarter was good. The defense in the third quarter was even better and all but put the game away. Holding just a 22-21 lead after Lyons rallied in the final two minutes of the first half, the Swathers locked down.
Lyons missed its first 12 shots of the third quarter as Hesston built a 33-21 lead. The only points the Lions managed in the period was a desperation three-pointer from Alexis Lasater at the buzzer.
“Our shots just would not fall,” Hollinger said. “They just weren’t loose anymore and they got really, really tight. And once the first couple didn’t fall, they got even tighter.”
Lyons rallied in the final period, getting within 40-34 on Hollinger’s fifth three-pointer with 1:58 to play. But Hesston made 7 of 8 free throws in the final 1:49to clinch it.
Hollinger led all scorers with 18 points, but the Swathers held standout Brenna McClure to eight points. Cami Richardson scored 16 and Caylee Richardson added 11 points and 10 rebounds for Hesston.