By Jared Janzen
HALSTEAD—Here they come again.
For the second year in a row, the Halstead girls basketball team has earned a ticket to the 3A state championship thanks to a 40-36 win over Hesston during the sub-state finals on Saturday afternoon.
Players were a bit at a loss for words following the win.
“It’s still taking me a second to process,” senior Karenna Gerber said. “It’s a surreal feeling, and I’m really excited to be back.”
“I can’t describe it right now; I’m just so excited,” sophomore Kaleigh O’Brien said.
Senior Madison McClain said the win felt incredible.
“It was a long time coming,” she said. “We all just had to play all-in. We put aside our individual desires and played as a team.”
Halstead didn’t have an easy path to victory. Just two weeks ago, Halstead had lost to Hesston 31-44 in the regular season, which was not only the biggest deficit loss Halstead has had in its 20-3 season, but was also the least points Halstead has scored in a game this year.
During the rematch at sub-state, Hesston again controlled the tempo for most of the game.
“It just felt like we couldn’t catch a break,” head coach Derek Schutte said. “[Hesston] made shots when they needed them. The ball didn’t seem like it was bouncing our way a lot. Some of that was us, but [the Halstead girls] never quit there in those last three or four possessions, came up with some turnovers and deflections, and they didn’t quit on the deflection. They turned them into layups.”
Down 33-34 with 1:13 to play, O’Brien got a layup to put Halstead back in the lead, 35-34, for the first time since midway through the first quarter. She followed it up 14 seconds later with another steal and layup.
The rest of the game turned into a free throw contest, with Gerber adding three points for Halstead and Anna Humphreys adding two for Hesston. Halstead got the win, 40-36.
“I wanted to go to state so bad with this team again,” O’Brien said about her performance when the game was on the line. “I was so excited, and the adrenaline was so high.”
The memory of loss to Hesston earlier in the year also motivated O’Brien.
“I think we wanted revenge,” she said, adding that even if the two teams hadn’t met at sub-state, Halstead still would have wanted a rematch with Hesston.
Senior Haley Lewis agreed that Halstead had wanted retribution from their rival.
“They poked the wrong bear on Saturday,” Lewis said.
McClain and Gerber said the team had kept their composure, even when behind.
“I love those kind of high-pressure games,” McClain said. “I was confident even when we were behind, and we all showed up when we needed to.”
“We were struggling a little bit to get stuff going, but I think we always had in the back of our minds that ‘We’ve still got this; we’re still in it; let’s just go out tougher and get this thing over with,” Gerber said.
Gerber credited Halstead’s lock-down defense as what let them turn the game around in the final minute.
“It was all-in, just get in there and finish it out with hardcore, solid defense for the last stretch, and then on offense we just calmed down,” she said. “We finished plays that we needed to.”
Halstead is now looking ahead to a rematch with Cheney (22-0) at 6 p.m. Monday night at Cheney. The first time these teams met this season, Cheney won, 57-47.
Halstead isn’t letting that deter them, though.
“They’re really good,” Schutte said. “They score in a lot of ways, so we got to make sure we take care of the ball, defend them, and turn that into some offense.”
“We’re excited to see them again,” Gerber said. “They’re a great team, and we’re ready to see just how good we are.”
O’Brien said it would take a lot of teamwork and hard work to get a win over Cheney. McClain and Lewis said they would just keep building off what they’d done with Hesston.
“This and more, and I think we’re ready,” Lewis said. “We’re prepared. We’ve been working for this since third grade.”