On Tuesday, the Salina Central Mustang basketball teams traveled to Hutchinson for another AVCTL-I matchup. Both contests were competitive and close in the fourth quarter. Neither was particularly pretty. But, as long as you win, it is pretty enough and that is how the Mustangs got it done against the Salthawks to earn a sweep.
In the girls contest, Hutchinson made it a point to not let Central star guard Aubrie Kierscht go off for another big night. Kierscht was coming off a career best 32 point performance last Friday at Campus, and the Salthawks did a good job of guarding her especially off the ball. It forced Kierscht’s teammates to step up.
Hutch led through most of the first half. Central did hold the lead at 9-8 after the opening eight minutes. Then, after falling behind 16-12, the Lady Mustangs responded with a 9-0 run to take a 21-16 lead into halftime.
After a bucket from Kierscht to start the third quarter, Central led 23-16 but Hutch came back quickly, getting to within one at 30-29 toward the end of the period. The Lady Mustangs went cold and struggled with turnovers. However, the Salthawks failed to take advantage of numerous opportunities late in the third and early in the fourth.
In the fourth, it was freshman Mykayla Cunningham who stepped up with a pair of offensive rebounds, a pair of buckets and two clutch free throws to give Central a 40-35 lead in the final minute. Hutchinson would not go away, getting within three and then forcing a turnover to give themselves a chance to tie with 6.2 seconds left. Fortunately for Central, Tina Robertson’s try from 25 feet out bounced off the rim and Hutch was not able to get off another game-tying attempt. The Lady Mustangs escaped with the 40-37 win.
Chaliscia Samilton scored nine of her team-high 11 points in the first half. Kierscht had seven of her nine in the second half and Cunningham also scored nine, seven of which came in the final quarter. She had seven of Central’s ten points in the final stanza. The win was the fourth straight for the Lady Mustangs, who improved to 13-2 overall.
Those in attendance at the Salthawk Activity Center then witnessed a turnover fest for much of the boys game. Both teams started slow offensively, then the Mustangs got three-pointers from Micah Moore, Aaron Watson and Nolan Puckett to grab a 13-10 lead after the first quarter.
In the seconds quarter, both teams put on a display of how to not pass the ball. The Mustangs were not able to establish a rhythm offensively, and key players were saddled with foul trouble. Jevon Burnett and Puckett each picked up three fouls before halftime, and Reed McHenry sat most of the quarter with two fouls. Yet, Central led at the break, 26-21, thanks to the effort from Watson. He put up six points in the frame, including his second three-pointer.
The turnover problem persisted though, all the way through the third quarter. Hutchinson chipped away at the Mustang lead, ultimately tying the score at 35-all, going to the fourth.
Early in the final stanza, the Salthawks got a three from Joe Blake for a 40-37 Hutch lead. But that all of a sudden seemed to poke the bear. Central responded with a run, and Puckett’s second trey of the night put the Mustangs ahead for good at 43-41. A combination of big shots, such as two more threes courtesy of Burnett, defensive stops and free throws from Logan Losey and Puckett helped slam the door on Hutch as Central pulled away for a 55-44 victory.
The win improved the Mustangs to 6-9 overall. Watson finished with a team-high 15 points, more than tripling his season scoring average. Puckett scored eight, Burnett had seven (all in the fourth), and there was another hero off the bench. Rarely used big man M.J. Dyson used his size to his advantage, snaring rebounds and he scored six second half points.
Up next for Central, is the return match with rival South at the Brickhouse on Friday.