HUTCHINSON — After his team lost to Garden Plain in the Class 3A state tournament quarterfinals on Wednesday, Riley County head coach Harold Oliver wasn’t sure how many 3-pointers the Owls knocked down in the 57-34 win over his team.
When told of the final numbers — 8 of 10 from beyond the arc — he just smiled.
“The way they shot the ball…” he said. “You’re not going to win that game.”
It was that kind of day for the Falcons against an athletic Garden Plain team with just one loss on the year. Riley County hung tough in the first half after the Owls knocked down 6 of 8 from 3. They went to the locker room down 24-15.
After halftime, the Falcons opted to contest the perimeter more on defense, but Garden Plain was able to create off the dribble, getting open looks inside the paint while growing its lead.
All in all, the Owls outscored Riley County in every quarter while showing why their winning streak now stands at 21 games.
“We just seemed a little sluggish, a little slow, but I credit them for that,” Oliver said. “They were aggressive and they scored inside and out.”
Offensively, the Falcons couldn’t keep pace with the hot-shooting Owls. They finished the game 6 of 22 from beyond the arc, while struggling to get open looks because of Garden Plain’s 2-3 zone, which forced 13 turnovers and made passing difficult. The Owls were particularly good at closing out on shooters and getting a hand up on 3-point attempts, even off skip passes. Riley County shot more than half of its shots from beyond the arc.
“They get their hands on a lot of passes,” Oliver said. “We haven’t had that much difficulty passing the ball. They play long and have a good zone. They close out really well, so it makes it hard.”
Riley County was led by Makayla Vargo’s 13 points, with Madison Vargo chipping in nine and Heidi Prockish adding seven. It was a particularly tough shooting day for Katelyn Thomson, who was held scoreless on 0-for-9 shooting.
Garden Plain was led by Alli Heimerman’s 16 points, while Cassidy Haukap added 13 and Natalie Dooley scored 11.
Despite shooting just 2 of 16 from the floor inside the 3-point line in the first half, Garden Plain was able to build its lead early with the long ball.
Both teams started slow, with Riley County hitting its first basket — a Madison Vargo 3-pointer — more than 3 minutes into the game. Garden Plain got back-to-back 3s from Alli Heimerman to stake a 13-6 lead later in the quarter.
As the shots kept falling, the lead kept growing for Garden Plain.
The Owls led by 12 in the second quarter before heading to the locker room up 24-15.
Oliver said the way the first half unfolded made the game seem more out of reach than it really was after the first two quarters.
“At halftime, we’re only down nine and if you come out and get a shot or two in that third quarter, we’re right back in the game,” Oliver said. “But that didn’t happen. You do kind of get the feeling that it’s a little bit worse than it is at that point, and you can see that in the kids.”
In the second half, the Owls kept pouring it on, turning to the inside game of Haukap, who had 12 of her 13 points in the second half.
Early in the third quarter, Garden Plain went on a 12-0 run to take a 36-17 lead that all-but ended the Falcons’ chance at a comeback, especially as Riley County’s shooting woes continued.
“For us to be successful, we have to knock shots down,” he said. “When we do that consistently, we’re a pretty good team. But again, they made it difficult for us because they got to us so quickly.”
With just one senior on the roster in Bree Busch, the Falcons will return most of their key players next season. That makes a trip to state — even a short one — that much more valuable for the future.
“They have four or five seniors, and we don’t,” Oliver said. “They looked like a senior-led team, and hopefully we can learn from it, grow, and get better and have the opportunity next year.
“They had a great season, we had a great group, we played hard and it just wasn’t our day.”