For the third straight year, the South Central Timberwolves girls basketball team is going to the State Basketball Tournament.

The Timberwolves beat the Pretty Prairie Bulldogs 53-45 Saturday night. They’ll play in the 1A State Tournament next week inside Dodge City’s United Wireless Arena.

South Central never trailed, but it wasn’t always easy. They came out early and played trap defense on Pretty Prairie, forcing a bunch of turnovers in the first quarter.

Senior Bri Rutherford had the first 6 points of the game as she and her teammates wracked up steals early on the way to a 15-6 lead at the end of the first.

The Timberwolves continued to keep the the Bulldogs at bay through the second despite how the Bulldogs started passing out of the trap to their big players in side. In the third, the Timberwolves opened the second half with an 11-0 run, but the Bulldogs got shots to start falling late, and in the fourth they quarter cut the Timberwolves’ lead to just 4 points at 42-38.

South Central stymied the comeback attempt. Head coach Tim Rietzke said his team finally decided they would spread the floor, and against the Bulldogs it worked.

“I thought they gave us an opportunity then to make they may a little bit for how they were defending Rutherford, because they were going to leave some people open,” Rietzke said.

The Bulldogs gradually put two defenders on Rutherford, but Rutherford was able to pass out of many of those, often either directly to senior Jordyn Jellison or to another teammate who got it to her.

At 6’0, Jellison was one of the many players who the Timberwolves used to counter the Bulldogs’ adjustments. After Prairie’s bucket in the fourth that cut the lead to 4, Jellison went on to score the next 5 points of the game. A steal-and-score by Rutherford after that and an ensuing and-1 free throw gave the Timberwolves an 8-point lead.

Pretty Prairie briefly cut the deficit to 7 shortly thereafter, but that was as close as they got the rest of the way.

Rietzke was not happy with the team’s performance in the opening sub-state game against Minneola, and he said some of the carried over to the team’s performance Saturday.

“I think the other night’s performance and the practice the day before had a lot to do with our inconsistency tonight,” Rietzke said.

Basketball is a game of habit, Rietzke said, and you can’t just have a bad practice and a bad game, then flip a switch and expect to play well after that.

“The game doesn’t work that way,” Rietzke said.

For now, however, the Timberwolves are one of eight 1A girls basketball teams heading to State. The other Sub-State Champions included South Gray, Kensington-Thunder Ridge, Central Plains, Hanover, Rural Vista (Hope/White City), Olpe and Waverly.

State begins Wednesday on the girls side.

“It’s three years in a row for these girls. (That’s) hard to do at the 1A level, especially this year, where we had a really tough regional,” Rietzke said. “I thought we let down a little bit because we got through that tough regional, and we played OK in the sub-state but not great. We’ll have to play really well on Wednesday, but sometimes that’s good. They’ll focus, they’ll listen, and you go from there.”