The South Central girls basketball team won a nail-biter to take the SPIAA League Basketball Tournament Championship game.
Yet in the waning seconds, among a team full of veteran seniors, perhaps nobody came up bigger than one of the team’s three rookies.
The Timberwolves led 41-40 with under 20 seconds remaining. After the Rebels committed a foul, Timberwolves freshman Hadley Lohrding went to the free-throw line, and she made both, extending the lead to 3 points at 43-40.
She missed two later, but senior Bri Rutherford hit a free throw to make the score 44-40. After some errors by South Gray, that stood up as the final.
On the Timberwolves, big things are planned for Lohrding, and Saturday night was a chance to get her experience to help prepare her for that.
“Believe it or not tonight was her first start,” South Central head coach Tim Rietzke said. “She’s going to be a point guard in the future, but she’s not going to play ahead of Bri. But we needed to get her on the floor, so we player her tonight at the power forward and said ‘Guess what, you’re going to guard a 6-foot, 6-1 girl,’ and she didn’t blink, she just went out and played.”
Lohrding’s free throws were just one way she impacted the game.
“She made two really big plays in the game: One steal out of the run-and-jump press, and two big free throws,” Rietzke said. “Anytime your freshmen get that kind of game experience, the next three years it’ll pay off.”
Saturday’s game was one that was earned.
“Nothing is free,” Rietzke said. “South Gray played great, they played physical, they played (with) heart. It was just a game where two or three plays were probably going to decide the game, and that’s just what happened.”
South Gray head coach Paul Clancy said his team played extremely hard.
“We’re a young team, and we missed several opportunities,” Clancy said.
After Lohrding’s free throws gave South Central a 43-40 lead with about 15 seconds left, South Gray threw an inbound pass from the baseline nearly the length of the court, but it hit the streaking South Gray player and her defender in the back.
The South Gray player recovered the ball but threw a pass that went out of bounds.
On the ensuing inbound, Lohrding was fouled. She missed both, but a long pass nearly the length of the court like the first one went off the hands of another South Gray player and out with 3.8 seconds left. In both cases, the ball had gotten to Rebels players who were inside the 3-point line despite the Rebels’ 3-point deficit.
Rutherford was fouled at on the next inbound play, and missed her first free throw but hit the second.
South Gray wasn’t able to do anything with the next inbound pass.
“We just didn’t execute at the end of the game like we were supposed to,” Clancy said.
Senior Hannah Askew led the Rebels with 15 points. Junior Christy Wiebe had 10.
Rutherford finished with a game-high 21 points for South Central. Senior Jordyn Jellison had 13. Lohrding had 6.
With the Tournament over, the focus now turns for South Central to preparing for their Regional playoffs later this season.
“Our regional is just really, really loaded,” Rietzke said. “Kiowa County, South Central, Bucklin, Cunningham has one loss, South Barber with two losses, I think, so it’s going to be games like this every night if you want to get out of there,” Rietzke said. “Now if we can get out, I like our chances. But we don’t don’t have the margin for error we’ve had the last two or three years. So we have to do a lot of good things.”
Saturday wasn’t any different, he said.
Next up for South Central is a trip to play Kinsley Jan. 29 in Kinsley. The Rebels host Hodgeman County at home that same night.