The South Central Timberwolves girls basketball team used a dominant third quarter performance to beat the Bucklin Red Aces in Thursday’s 2019 SPIAA League Basketball Tournament Semifinal game by a score of 55-39.

The Timberwolves will play for the Championship Saturday at 6 p.m. against South Gray. The Red Aces will play against Kiowa County for third at 2:30 p.m. that same day.

South Central outscored Bucklin 19-10 in the third quarter and took a 46-29 lead into the fourth.

It was a far cry from when the Red Aces had made it a game in the second.

Bucklin fell behind 16-4 in the first quarter, but in the second battled back, cutting South Central’s lead to just 2 points at 21-19 with about 2:08 left in the quarter on a 3-pointer by sophomore Danae Scott.

Bucklin coach Craig Bowman said falling behind by as much as they did in the first made the game a lot tougher on the Red Aces.

“It was great that the girls fought back, and I thought we got the momentum,” Bowman said.

The Timberwolves hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer signaling the end of the second quarter, and Bowman said he knew the next quarter would be tough.

“If you look at every game that South Central has played, the third quarter they just come out and beat the heck out of teams,” Bowman said. “We knew it was coming, but it’s easy to say that and hard to react because they’re so aggressive defensively, and once they get your confidence level down and then we stop making plays, stop with our aggressiveness. You can get it back out of hand pretty quick with them because they score so quick.”

Sophomore Catherine Bowman had a game-high 24 points for the Red Aces. Senior Tricia Hokanson had 8, and Scott’s 3 points were the third highest individual total among Bucklin players.

For South Central, senior Bri Rutherford had a team-high 18 points, 9 of which came in that game-deciding third quarter.

Senior Jordyn Jellison had 12 points for South Central, and senior Tyra Snyder had 11. After a strong game against Hodgeman County Monday, freshman Sierra Jellison had 9 points for the Timberwolves.

The Red Aces and Timberwolves had played back on Jan. 8. The Timberwolves had also won that day, 56-38.

“They’ve got a really nice young team and (have) got a lot of good pieces,” South Central coach Tim Rietzke said. “With our team, it’s more about can I keep them on an even keel. When we play really well, we play really well and then all of a sudden it’s like ‘OK, let’s flip that switch off, and let’s just go out and play like it’s Sunday afternoon in intramurals.’ If we can get that fixed, in another month, we’ll be a tough out. If we can’t, then we leave ourself vulnerable to going home.”

South Central did a number of things that helped allow Bucklin to get back into the game in the second.

“We got sped up, and we had people in foul trouble,” Rietzke said.

Fouls played against both sides early. Hokanson drew two early ones for Bucklin, and Sierra Jellison drew two early as well.

“We’re not deep enough this year to make those kinds of mistakes,” Rietzke said. “What foul trouble does to you as a player is it takes you completely out of the rhythm of the game.”

Rietzke said a player can sit out for a little while due to fouls, and then when they go back in that foul trouble can cause a player to primarily be overly aware that “I can’t foul.”

“Now it’s so hard to gain that game rhythm again,” Rietzke said. “Some of our young players found that out tonight.”

Still, despite the trouble they ran into Thursday night, Rietzke made it clear he didn’t hold that against his players.

“I’ve got a good group, they’re good people, we’ve just got to continue to improve and maybe I’ve got to do a better job of pulling the right switches at the right time,” Rietzke said.

That’s something he’s still working on with this group he said, including things like what defenses to be in. One minute, whatever he’s doing looks good, the next minute he said he can find himself wondering ‘what’s going on out here?’ he said.

“They’re good people, they’re a good group, so bottom line (is) you’re going to continue to see progress and we’re playing for another Championship,” Rietzke said. “That’s the bottom line.”