The Kiowa County Mavericks girls basketball team used strong defense to comfortably take the 2019 SPIAA League Basketball Tournament third-place game Saturday.

The Mavericks beat the Bucklin Red Aces 44-24.

They led 18-4 after the first, 28-12 at halftime and 30-19 at the end of the third quarter.

Defense was something the Mavericks did well throughout the tournament.

“We did a good job holding girls under their average (point totals),” Kiowa County head coach Thomas Derstein said.

Spearville, earlier in the tournament, was an exception as a team, but in general Kiowa County did that well, he said, and Saturday was no different.

“(We) held their best girl to one field goal, three free throws, I mean that’s really all you can ask for defensively,” Derstein said. “Scoring is sometimes our issue, as we saw in the semifinal game where we only put up 32 points.”

Scoring only 32 points won’t let you beat anybody, he said, but Saturday, the Mavericks did better. They were more patient, and didn’t let the pressure get to them. They still have a long ways to go, and this tournament was one they really wanted. They had lost on Thursday to South Gray.

Bucklin senior Tricia Hokanson led the Red Aces with a team-high 13 points. Sophomore Catherine Bowman had 5, junior Ashleigh Mazerac had 3 and sophomore Janelle Tran-Chau had 3.

For Kiowa County, junior Sabrina Thomas had a game-high 19 points. Senior Brecken VandenHoek had 14, junior Kellie Rhodes had 9 and senior Casey Erickson had 2.

In interviews prior to Saturday’s game, Derstein said that the Mavericks’ primary focus had become winning the League Tournament.

With that tournament now over, they now shift their attention toward Regionals, and what they hope will be a run in the State playoffs.

“We obviously definitely wanted to be playing in the later game, but we didn’t earn it,” Derstein said. “South Gray definitely wanted it more than us (Thursday) night. But third-place, we’ll take it, and it’s definitely going to be a stepping stone because we have Bucklin in our Regional, we have South Central who’s playing in the final here in our Regional. Those are two good teams, and there’s two other good teams with South Barber and Cunningham also in our Regional.”

Competition like that will make it tough on the Mavericks and every team in that Regional, but whichever team makes it out will have proven themselves dangerous at the Sub-State level.

“The good thing about a tough Regional is that if you can get out, you’ve got an easier Sub-State,” Derstein said.

The team even talked in their walk-through ahead of the third-place game about how their Saturday matchup could end up being a preview for a rematch in Regionals.

“We even talked this morning in our walk-through that ‘If you need any more motivation, pretend this is the Regional game that gets you to the Sub-State final,’ because it very well could be,” Derstein said.