A late miss by Hays senior Tradgon McCrae, followed by two clutch free throws by Dodge City junior John Johnson proved to be decisive plays Thursday, as the Dodge City Red Demons boys basketball team beat the Indians 41-37.
On a night when made shots were relatively rare, Red Demon head coach Tony Starnes pointed to the timing of when his team’s plays, both on offense and defense, as being key reasons they won.
“We didn’t shoot it overall great, but we hit timely shots,” Starnes said. “Adrian (Mendoza), and I think Rameses (Vela) got a timely bucket down there in the fourth quarter, and so on.”
Mendoza, a senior and the Red Demons’ sharpshooter, hit three 3s in the fourth quarter. His first cut what was a 35-30 Hays lead to 35-33 with about 4:33 left. His second, about 30 seconds later, cut Hays’ lead to a single point at 37-36.
His last, with about 2:24 left in the game, gave the Red Demons a lead they’d never relinquish at 39-37. From there, Johnson eventually made two free throws following McCrae’s miss with just under 10 seconds left.
Hays had an apparent height advantage throughout the game, but Starnes said he thought his team did a good job on their taller players.
“They’re big, and we’re not, but I thought we did a really good job in that vein,” Starnes said.
The Red Demons were rarely control in the game. Hays led 14-6 after the first quarter, 20-19 at halftime and 29-28 after the third. The Indians also outrebounded the Red Demons 48-35, but the Red Demons made timely recoveries.
“We just did timely things,” Starnes said. “We got big stops at the right time, we hit shots at the right time.”
McCrae led all scorers with 16 points. For Dodge City, Mendoza led the team with 15 points, while Johnson had a game-high 10 rebounds to go with 7 points.
Hays shot 27.3 percent from the field and just 16 percent from 3-point territory, while Dodge City shot 26.4 percent from the field and 25.9 percent from 3-point territory.
Combined, the teams shot 29 of 108 from anywhere that wasn’t the free-throw line.
Hays head coach Rick Keltner said he thought both teams played their tails off, and pointed to the fact that his team is young. Though they made plenty of youth-like mistakes Thursday, they also made some good plays.
“We’re close to being scary, so we’re not giving up on this year,” Keltner said after the game. “We can look back at that game and talk about a missed layup or a missed assignment on defense or whatever and kick ourselves around, or we can just learn from it and realize that the future is bright if we just keep getting better.”
It wasn’t a perfect performance for the Indians. Mendoza’s bucket that gave the Red Demons a lead came in part because an Indian defender failed to cover their defensive assignment.”
“I thought our guys played hard,” Keltner said. “Dodge has some great shooters, and I thought we did a pretty good job.”
Keltner said he was as frustrated as anyone that the team didn’t win, but also that he is taking a longer perspective on the game as well.
“By the same token, we’re not going to be this young forever,” Keltner said.
The Red Demons are next in action when they take on the Haysville-Campus Colts at Campus High School in Wichita next Wednesday in the first round of the 6A Sub-State playoffs. That game is scheduled for 6 p.m.