By Jared Janzen
HALSTEAD—For the first time since 2009 and only the third time in school history, the Halstead girls basketball team has earned a spot in the sub-state finals thanks to a 47-34 win over Hesston on Friday night.
The Halstead girls will play Haven at 6 p.m. on Saturday night at home for a chance to play in the state tournament.
“They’re a great team,” head coach Derek Schutte said of Haven. “We’ve played them twice already, so it’s just going to come down to who makes plays.”
Haven earned their spot in the sub-state finals off of a 61-33 win over Southeast of Saline on Friday night.
Haven is responsible for two of the losses in Halstead’s 19-3 record. The first was a 30-37 loss on Jan. 14, and the second was a 27-34 loss during the second round of the Haven Tournament. Schutte said he thinks the outcome of Saturday night’s game may be different because the team has learned from its experiences.
“We’ve got to learn from it and get better next time,” he said. “The girls will be ready to go.”
If Halstead beats Haven, it would be the first time the team has ever qualified to state.
In the semi-final game against Hesston, Halstead held their opponent to just two points for almost all of the first quarter until Hesston slipped in a free throw with less than a second to go to put the score at 10-3.
“It was kind of ugly, with a lot of fouls,” Schutte said of the team’s performance early on. “We were playing hard and playing fast. But we stuck with it and we were able to move our feet better in the second half and not foul as much, and I thought that really helped.”
Hesston started the second quarter with a three-pointer and for most of that period, they trailed Halstead by four to six points until junior Hailey Kelley sunk a big three with two minutes left in the half. Another five points by freshman Kaleigh O’Brien in the final minute gave Halstead an eight-point advantage heading into the locker room, 22-14.
Junior Josie Engel started the third quarter off with a three, and after a bucket by junior Karenna Gerber and a free throw by O’Brien, the team held their biggest lead of the game to that point, up by 13.
The momentum started to shift in the last two-and-a-half minutes of the third. Hesston went on an 8-0 run to close the gap to five, 33-28. Gerber scored a bucket at the start of the fourth, followed by a three from Hesston and a free throw to bring Hesston within just three points, 35-32.
“It’s just part of growing,” Schutte said about allowing the comeback. “We’re playing a lot of juniors, and so we’ll learn from it, and we’ll definitely be better tomorrow.”
Halstead knuckled down and went on a run of eight points themselves, including a three-pointer and pair of baskets by Gerber.
The final minute of the game came down to free throws, with Halstead closing out the night with a 47-34 win.
Gerber finished the night with 18 points, while O’Brien was close behind with 14. Engel totaled eight for the night, while junior Parker Schroeder had four and Kelley had three.
“I thought Kaleigh had some nice makes late in the first half when Karenna was in foul trouble,” Schutte said. “Then Karenna was able to get some baskets inside there in the second half. We just stuck with it defensively, and I’m proud of the girls.”