When the final buzzer sounded, Salina Central senior Delaney Nash met with classmates Holly Sanderson and Selah Merkel at the free throw line.
The three placed their arms around each other, shared tears, but more importantly, smiles. They realized just how special the last four years have been.
Maize South senior Lauren Johnson poured in 23 points, the defense forced 23 turnovers, and the senior-laden Mavericks ended Salina Central’s season with a 61-44 victory at Maize South. The Mavericks snapped Central’s three-year streak of making state while advancing to state for the first time in program history.
The Mavericks received a boost before the game even started. Senior point guard Zayda Perez was allowed to suit up just days after a decision by KSHSAA that ruled her ineligible for the remainder of the postseason. Maize South was forced to forfeit the first six games of the season because Perez didn’t sit out the required 18 weeks after transferring from Valley Center in the summer.
Perez running away from the bench during the starting introductions sent the crowd into a frenzy, leading to an 8-0 burst to open the game.
Salina Central (12-10) didn’t flinch, roaring back to 10-8 late in the first. Nash capped the opening period with a bucket with .9 seconds left, knotting up the score at 10-10.
The Mustangs didn’t stop there, grabbing a 13-10 advantage after a three from freshman Hampton Williams. Central added a bucket to make the lead four to start the second period.
Maize South (16-6) answered with a stifling defense, limiting the Mustangs to two field goals in the final 6:03 of the half, building a 27-20 halftime cushion. That defensive pressure bled into the third period as Central only put in one basket, settling with a 45-24 deficit.
The Mustangs never gave up, cutting the margin down to 13, twice, and then 12 late in the contest before free throws down the stretch.
Freshman Aubrie Kierscht wrapped up her solid freshman campaign with 17 points. Senior Selah Merkle added 15 points in her final game.