The Ell-Saline Cardinals began the 2017-2018 girls’ basketball season at home against Little River. After the first quarter, Ell-Saline had as many turnovers as points while finding themselves down 21-9. By the end of the third, the outcome was no longer in doubt as the Redskins had grown its advantage to 42-21 on their way to forcing 23 Cardinal turnovers in a 49-25 season-opening victory.
On Monday night, Ell-Saline and Little River met up for a rematch in the quarterfinal round of the Hilltop Hoops Classic at Barton County Community College in Great Bend. The odds were long for the one-win Cardinals, the seventh seed in the eight-team field, taking on the second-seeded Redskins, who entered play with just two losses on the season.
After trailing by five following the first quarter, Ell-Saline tightened up on the defensive end, surrendering just six second quarter points to pull with four at halftime, 20-16. A balanced third quarter left Ell-Saline down six at 34-28 – a marked improvement from the 21-point hole Ell-Saline had found itself in through three quarters in its first matchup with the Redskins.
With 5:42 remaining in the game, Little River had extended its lead to nine. Rather than fold, the young Cardinals showed their newfound resiliency. pulling back within two before. The improved effort wasn’t quite enough to get the Cardinals across the finish line on top. A Little River bucket gave the Redskins a four-point advantage, then a crucial Ell-Saline turnover followed by a clutch three-point bucket from Redskin sophomore Emma McBride extended the late lead to seven.
Little River hit seven of eight free throws in the final quarter after shooting just three for eight from the line over the first three quarters to salt away a 48-39 victory, propelling the Redskins into the semifinal round on Thursday against third-seeded St. John while sending Ell-Saline into a Tuesday afternoon consolation semifinal round battle with the tourney’s sixth-seed, the Larned Indians, who fell to St. John in the night Monday evening 37-32.
Little River (9-2) got 14 points from McBride, who earned game-high honors with the effort. Senior Melanie Renken and junior Madison Loder each added nine for the Redskins, while sophomore Isabelle Eberle chipped with eight points of the Little River bench.
Ell-Saline (1-11) received a worthy effort from the lone senior on the Cardinals’ roster, Lexi Kochanowski, who finished with a double-double, tallying 12 points while ripping down 15 rebounds to earn Salina Ortho Player of the Game honors. Sophomore Ashton Travis also scored 12 points to on the night, while junior Rylee Schrock and freshman Reece Ditto added six and five points, respectively.