For a split second, the Salina Central girls basketball team thought it would receive an extra four minutes to claim a championship.
Then, in an instant, the opportunity vanished.
With 0.4 seconds left, Liberal threw a baseball pass to Rylie Hallman. The sophomore caught the basketball and threw up a 17-foot shot before the horn. The ball hit the backboard, rolled around the cylinder, deflected off the glass again, and went through the net, giving the Lady Red a stunning 60-58 win over Salina Central. Liberal claimed its fourth straight championship.
The second-seeded Lady Red (9-2) raced out to an 8-2 advantage. Salina Central settled in and crawled back within one, 10-9. Liberal added two more points to its total, taking a 12-9 lead to the second.
Ashley Carrillo stole the show in the second. The Liberal junior scored 10 points in the second eight minutes of play, ballooning the margin out to 29-18. Central junior Aubrie Kierscht countered with nine points and sophomore Mykayla Cunningham added a last-second three to cap off a 10-1 run for the Mustangs, who closed the gap at 30-28 at intermission.
Salina Central (9-2) logged the first bucket of the third, knotting up the score at 30-30. However, Carrillo and Liberal had the perfect response. Carrillo scored another nine points, stretching Liberal’s cushion to 51-37 at the conclusion of the third.
Following a Liberal bucket, Central stared at a 16-point deficit with 6:53 to play. The Mustangs didn’t surrender. Junior Hampton Williams, Cunningham and Kierscht all hit monstrous threes during a 12-0 explosion, pulling Central within four, 53-49.
Liberal failed to close the door on Central’s comeback. With 11 seconds left, Liberal missed the front end of a one-and-one. Kierscht dribbled around the arc to the left wing where she was fouled. She calmly soaked all three freebies, tying the game at 58-all.
Kierscht finished with 25 points. Cunningham recorded a career-high 19 points. Williams added a season-best 12.
Carrillo paced Liberal with 21 points. Halle Payton connected on four threes for 12. Bree Horyna and Aubrey Warden chipped in 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Salina Central rests until Friday. The Mustangs travel to Hays. Pregame coverage begins at 5:45 on Sports Radio 1150 KSAL.