Salina Central boys basketball coach Doug Finch challenged his squad at halftime.
His team answered in the biggest way.
The Mustangs stormed back from 14 points down, locking down the Buhler Crusaders for a 56-44 victory Friday at Mabee Arena.
After trading buckets in the first few moments of the game, the Mustangs settled with an 8-7 cushion. The Crusaders closed out the opening frame on a 9-0 spurt, giving them a 16-8 advantage after one quarter.
Buhler didn’t stop there, powering its way to a 26-12 lead. Central junior David Grammer brought the Mustangs to within nine at the break with five points at the end, pulling Central to a 26-17 deficit.
Central turned to its full-court press to complete the comeback. The Mustangs held the Crusaders to just seven points in the third frame, knotting up the score in the process at 33-33.
The score was tied again at 38-apiece, but senior Ethan Speer willed his team to a 48-38 advantage, scoring seven of his 12 points in the final period. Classmate Sam Shaffer and junior Harper Williams added 11 each. Senior Ethan Kickhaefer earned Salina Ortho Player of the Game honors with his seven points and toughness.
Central (8-3) goes for its 13th SIT championship on Saturday against Andover. Pregame starts at 7:00 pm on 1150 KSAL.
SALINA CENTRAL 52, ABILENE 40
In the first round of the SIT, Central started slow. On Friday, the Lady Mustangs were the aggressors from the start.
Salina Central created the initial separation with a 10-0 explosion in the opening quarter. Abilene trailed by as many as 14 points, but the Cowgirls trimmed the deficit to 27-16 at the break.
The Cowgirls didn’t stop there, bringing the hole down to six points in the third. Central responded by pushing the cushion out to 38-29 through three quarters.
The Lady Mustangs closed out the contest at the foul line, making eight of their 10 free throws in the final stanza.
Senior Elisa Backes paced Central with 19 points. Junior Selah Merkle was the Salina Ortho Player of the Game, adding 11 points off the bench with a pair of huge treys.
Salina Central (9-2) picked up its ninth consecutive victory. The Lady Mustangs battle top seed Liberal on Saturday. Pregame coverage begins at 5:15 on 1150 KSAL.