RILEY — The Riley County girls’ basketball held off a strong second-half surge from Silver Lake to defeat the Eagles 52-41 on Saturday night for a trip to the Class 3A state tournament in Hutchinson next week.
As the No. 2 seed, the Falcons were the visitors in their home gym against top-seeded Silver Lake, but still got the advantage of a home crowd.
Riley County (17-5) took charge in the first quarter with a 15-5 lead and a 23-15 advantage at halftime. But the Eagles (16-6) mounted a furious comeback in the third quarter, outscoring the Falcons 17-8 in that period alone. After Silver Lake took the lead on a long scoring run, clutch shooting and free-throw helped put Riley County back in the driver’s seat to close out the game.
The Falcons were led by junior Katelyn Thomson’s game-high 18 points, including a 7-of-8 clip from the charity stripe. Madison Vargo, another junior, was also in double-digit scoring with 13 points. She was also 7 of 8 from the free-throw line and made two critical 3-pointers.
Silver Lake was led by junior Ashlyn Lane with 13 points and senior Mackenzie Freeman was just behind with 10 points — including a game-high three treys.
“Silver Lake is a great team,” Falcons head coach Harold Oliver said. “They are going to make runs and it doesn’t matter what the score is, and it’s been like that (every time) we’ve played them.
“Our kids played with great discipline. (All our matchups) with Silver Lake have been good. I’m just proud of our kids. We beat a great team tonight.”
The final score hardly represents how close the game was down the stretch.
Midway through the third quarter, Silver Lake’s quick transition offense made it difficult for the Falcons.
With less than four minutes to play in the third, Riley County held an 11-point lead and looked to build on it, but a missed fast-break layup was tipped in by Freeman and a basket in the low post moments later by Lane brought the Eagles to within seven.
Then, Silver Lake freshman Madison Wegner nailed a 3-pointer and the momentum began to shift. Vargo answered with a 3-pointer of her own, but the Eagles didn’t blink as Freeman hit a trey on the other end.
Alexis Gifford, another Silver Lake freshman, stole the ball from Riley County and was fouled on her layup attempt, making both shots.
The Falcons struggled to make anything happen on offense and with seconds left, Gifford rushed down the court and made a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer that was closer to halfcourt than it was to the arc.
Gifford — along with the rest of the Silver Lake bench and fans — jumped up in excitement, as the trey gave Silver Lake its first lead of the game, 32-31.
Riley County kept its composure, though.
Thomson opened the fourth quarter with her lone 3-pointer of the night to retake the lead.
Although Silver Lake answered again with another trey from Freeman, Vargo took advantage of foul shots on the other end and sank them both to put Riley County back in front.
Following Vargo’s free-throw makes and a defensive stop, Falcons junior Heidi Prockish got to the line where she made 1 of 2 and attacked again moments later with a bucket in the paint to put Riley County ahead 39-35 with four minutes to play.
Makayla Vargo made an inside basket at the 2:52 mark to extend the Falcons’ lead to five points and Riley County put the exclamation mark on the night when Makayla hit a 3-pointer from the right corner to extend the Falcons’ lead to 44-38 with 49.1 seconds left to play.
From that point on, Silver Lake put Riley County on the free throw stripe, where the Falcons made every attempt the rest of the way, as the Eagles’ 3-pointers finally quit falling.
Overall, Riley County was 19 of 22 from the free-throw line, while Silver Lake was just 8 of 13.