Eight days before Sub-State championship Saturday, the Salina Central girls basketball team lost to Newton to close the regular season.
Central saved the firepower for the most important contest.
The Lady Mustangs took control of the game with a 14-0 run, three players were in double figures, and Salina Central powered its way to a third consecutive Sub-State championship, downing Newton 54-37. SC brings a 15-7 record to the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, a place that witnessed back-to-back fourth-place finishes by Central.
The opening quarter was far from pretty as both teams combined for 10 turnovers. Central junior Selah Merkle had five of her 12 points in the first frame, giving the Lady Mustangs an early 7-4 advantage. Newton junior Desiray Kernal responded with six points of her own, putting Newton ahead 8-7 after one.
Newton (15-7) pushed the lead to 11-9 after a three by senior Taylor Antonowich, but the Lady Railders fell silent down the stretch as Kernal, their leading scorer and rebounder, took a tumble and hit her head on the floor. She did not return, leaving the door open for Central.
SC made Newton pay, ending the first half on a 14-0 explosion, spearheaded by senior Myah Ward, who had all eight of her points in the second quarter. Ward’s performance included two threes to give SC a 23-11 halftime cushion.
Central padded its advantage to 16 early in the third, but the Lady Railers cut the deficit to nine following a 9-2 spurt. Newton crawled even closer, starting the fourth period with an and-one buck by senior Kyndal Bacon, who finished with a team-high 10 points.
After witnessing their lead get trimmed down to 31-25, Central sophomore Kadyn Cobb stepped up her game, connecting on a huge triple to calm the nerves of the Lady Mustangs. The true dagger came from senior Elisa Backes. Backes launched a three, saw it go halfway down, pop out, and then back in to hand Central a 38-26 advantage with 4:50 to play.
The future Nebraska-Kearney Loper finished with game-high honors with 17 points. Cobb, the Salina Ortho Player of the Game, poured in a career-high 15 points, 13 coming in the second half.
Salina Central awaits its seeding for the Class 5A state tournament next week.