Coming off a valiant effort in a hard-fought loss to second-seeded Little River in the opening round of the Hilltop Hoops Classic in Great Bend Monday evening, the seventh-seeded Ell-Saline Cardinals looked to capitalize on their newfound momentum on Tuesday against a one-win Larned squad, the tournament’s six seed. Of course, the Indians were looking for the same against the one-win Cardinals.
By the time the it was all said and done, Larned had seized the opportunity on its way to a 47-31 blowout victory. While Ell-Saline commanded the glass, out-rebounding the Indians 44-25, mental mistakes played the leading roll in Ell-Saline’s demise, as the Cardinals surrendered the rock 22 times while forcing just 12 Larned miscues, leading to a 21-10 Larned advantage in points off turnovers on the night.
In addition to the turnover troubles, Ell-Saline (1-12) was left searching for answers on offense with Lexi Kochanowski on the floor. After finishing Monday night’s matchup with 12 points and 15 rebounds, the Cardinals’ lone senior picked up three early fouls in the tightly-officiated contest and was forced to the bench with just under a minute remaining in the first quarter and would not return until halfway through the third.
Before departing, Kochanowski scored the only four points for Ell-Saline in the first quarter as Larned (2-10) raced out to 14-4 lead after the first eight minutes of action. Through the next two quarters, the Indians outscored the Cardinals 24-16 to get out to a cruise to a 38-20 lead after the third quarter. With Kochanowski back on the floor, Ell-Saline was able to outscore Larned 11-9 over the final eight minutes, with seven of the 11 Cardinal points in the period coming from the senior leader.
The lone bright spot on the night was a fine performance off the bench from Lakyn Short. With Kochanowski on the bench, Short saw extended minutes and made the most of the opportunity, finishing with nine points to go along with a game-high ten rebounds. Despite the limited action, Kochanowki led the Cardinals in scoring with 11 points, while adding eight rebounds.
While Kochanowki and Short combined for 20 points on the game, the rest of Ell-Saline’s supporting cast contributed little on the offensive side of the ball, combining for just 11 points.
Larned received a strong effort from Salina Ortho Player of the Game, Baylea Perez. The Indian junior led all scorers on the night with 16 points on 5-10 shooting from the field to go with a perfect 5-5 clip at the free throw line. Perez also spearheaded the Indians’ full court pressure defense, coming up with five steals.
6’0″ junior Katie Fischer added eight points for Larned in the winning effort, while fellow juniors Brooke Butler and Kristin Anderson, along with sophomore Kendra Grandy, each finished with five points on the night.
Ell-Saline will wrap up tournament action in Great Bend on Friday at 3:00pm in the seventh-place matchup, awaiting the loser of the other consolation semifinal round matchup to be held Thursday afternoon, pitting fifth-seeded Macksville against the eight seed, Ness City. Both teams fell in their opening round games Tuesday evening, with fourth-seeded Moundridge handing Macksville 49-34, while Ness City was victimized by the top seed in the field, four-time defending Class 2A State Champion Central Plains in a 94-14 thrashing.