The Riley County girls basketball team met a wall in undefeated Hugoton on Wednesday in the 3A state quarterfinals.The Falcons failed to match the Eagles, and fell, 44-24.
The No. 8-seeded Falcons were missing starting point guard and three-year varsity member Tory Thomson, whom they lost about three weeks ago to injury. Nevertheless, the Falcons fought their way to the tournament, their first berth since 2014.
Riley County found itself in trouble from the start. On defense, the Falcons sat back in a 2-3 zone but allowed Amy Scott to find space on the perimeter for an open 3-pointer. Hugoton’s signature full-court pressure defense was in full effect all game, and forced two early turnovers.
Despite the early troubles, senior Bethany Crubel came to play. Her quick first step got her past an Eagle defender for a layup with time about to expire in the first quarter, closing the gap to 12-5. Crubel had all five points.
A defensive battle ensued in the second quarter, with neither team scoring for over three minutes. Crubel got the Falcons scoring again with a smooth up-and-under move to freeze the defense.
Just as the Falcons looked to bring the game even closer, they ran into more trouble. Riley County was giving up too many offensive rebounds, too frequently turning the ball over against the Eagles’ press and failing to get open looks off. A 10-4 run closed out the first half, putting the Falcons down, 24-11.
Things would continue to go south for Riley County, losing the third-quarter margin, 16-4. The Falcons’ offensive woes were evident, as they made just 1-of-10 field goal attempts in the quarter on a Crubel 3-point bomb.
Crubel finished with 12 points and three steals in her final game as a Falcon.
Coach Harold Oliver was more than pleased with her performance.
“We were excited about her being rewarded with a trip to state for all her hard work this season,” he said. “She’s been a great player, she had a lot on her shoulders, and performed consistently all year.”
With the game all but sealed, Hugoton stalled offensively, while the Falcons kept the pressure on, getting a late-game buckets from Addy Oliver, Saige Van Sickle, and Dani Wagner, the only Falcon points not from either Emily Earhart or Crubel. The latter two combined for 17 of Riley County’s 24 points.
Despite the first-round exit, Oliver was pleased with how far his team had come and the adversity it strived through. He believes it bodes well for the future of the returning Falcons.
“We’ve been to state a lot, but next year’s returners hadn’t yet. It’s good for these young players to get state tournament experience, to play a very high-caliber team like Hugoton. This is all a positive experience for our team,” Coach Oliver said. “We will have a solid nucleus next season.”
The Falcons end their season with a 15-9 mark. Hugoton (24-0) continues its undefeated march through 3A and will play Nemaha Central on Friday in the semifinals.