Salina Central girls basketball coach Chris Fear emerged from the locker room with a soaked suit. His normally pristine hair didn’t have the same flow.
That’s because the Lady Mustangs ambushed him. And for good reason as Central is headed to the Class 5A state tournament once again.
Junior Aubrie Kierscht netted 20 points, multiple teammates pulled down enormous offensive rebounds, and the Salina Central Mustangs powered past their cross-town rivals Salina South, 48-45, advancing to state for the seventh time in program history. The Mustangs are headed back to state after appearing for three straight years from 2016-18.
The Salina Showdown was set to feature fireworks as the two teams split in the regular season. Round three didn’t disappoint.
Basketball can be viewed as a game of runs and that’s exactly what transpired in the first 16 minutes. South opened with four straight points before Central responded with a 10-0 spurt. After falling behind 10-4 in the second, South bounced back with 11 straight point, leapfrogging Central, 15-10.
From there, the two teams traded punches like a heavyweight bout. Salina South kept Central at bay, leading 18-16 at intermission. The top post players led the charge in the first 16 minutes. South senior Lizzy Franco scored six points. Central junior Lici Samilton was right there next to her.
The third quarter, though, belonged to guard play. Sophomore Acacia Weis opened the third with her second three of the game for South. Junior Sydney Peterson followed with a spin move and bucket, sparking South to a 26-20 advantage.
Kierscht quickly answered with back-to-back three-point plays. The Navy commit logged the first three of the game for Central and followed it with a runner and a free throw to tie the game at 26-26 with three minutes to play.
Weis had the response South, gliding to the rim and getting fouled while making the bucket. Sophomore Kalysa Hamel ended the period with her second triple, giving South a 32-26 cushion moving into the fourth.
Central scored the first bucket of the fourth, but Weis handed South its largest lead of the game at 35-28, connecting on her third trey.
Salina Central roared back with a 10-3 burst. Junior Landry Stewart hit on a triple and Kierscht followed with a corner trey, tying the game at 38-38 midway through the fourth.
South jumped back ahead, but it didn’t last long. Stewart nailed another triple, propelling the Mustangs to a 41-40 advantage. The Cougars raced in front again, but the Mustangs turned to the offensive glass.
Samilton pulled down a pair of huge offensive boards that resulted four points. Stewart and junior Hampton Williams hauled in offensive rebounds after two misses at the free throw line.
Central left the door open for overtime after going one-of-two at the line. South had possession with 6.1 seconds remaining, but the Cougars failed to get a shot off in time.
Kierscht finished with 20 points for Central, 16 coming in the second half. Samilton finished with 13 points.
South was led by Weis, who matched her career-high of 14 points. Peterson added 12.
The Cougars finish their season at 10-12, their first double-digit win season since 2012-13.
Central takes an 18-4 mark to the quarterfinal round at the 5A state tournament. The Mustangs host Seaman at 6 pm with pregame at 5:45 on 1150 KSAL.