June 17th, 2019

machiainlaneLiberal’s Machia scores two fo her 29 points Thursday at the Class 6A Girls Basketball Tournament in WIchita’s Koch Arena. The Lady Redskins saw their perfect seaosn end with a 57-46 loss. L&T photo/Earl WattBy EARL WATT

  • • Leader & Times

WICHITA — Liberal’s perfect season came to an end Thursday in the first round of the Class 6A State Basketball Tournament in Wichita’s Kick Arena after an early barrage of threes and a 31-point performance by Olathe Northwest senior Sarah Gueldner led to a 57-46 loss for Liberal.

“We didn’t come out ready to guard early,” Liberal coach Carter Kruger said.

The Northwest Ravens connected from deep early, hitting four three pointers in the first quarter, and Machia Mullens had to try to answer in the lane against multiple defenders.

Northwest built a 15-6 lead in the first quarter, and the Lady Redskins fought throughout the second quarter to stay within 10.

The Lady Redskins had the lead down to eight, but  Mary Reiber had a rare drive to the basket for a basket as the second quarter ended, and Liberal trailed 29-19 at half.

Gueldner dominated early in the second half, reeling off all 12 points in the period for the Ravens to push Northwest to an 18-point lead, 41-23 with 4:11 to play in the third quarter.

“I think once we got down 18 it became real to our kids,” Kruger said. 

With their backs against the wall, the Lady Redskins started to force defensive stops and converted on the offensive end. Mullens scored 11 straight and Horyna completed a 14-0 run with a three that cut Northwest’s lead to four, 41-37 with 6:34 to play.

But Northwest was able to stretch the lead back to seven with only one made basket and four straight free throws.

Mullens hit a three with 2:02 to paly that cut the lead back to five, 49-44, but Northwest continued to use the free throw line to preserve the Raven advantage. Northwest made 14 of 16 shots in the period to end the Liberal rally.

Mullens battled inside to score 29 points and grab 17 rebounds for a state tournament double double.

Katie Horyna scored 11.

The Lady Redskins finished 2 of12 from three while Northwest connected on eight of 16 three-point shots. Six of those came in the first quarter.

katiedrivesKatie Horyna drives to the basket by Olathe Northwest’s Mary Reiber during the first round of the Class 6A Girls State Tournament in Wichita’s Koch Arena. Horyna scored 11 points, but the Lady Redksins fell behind ealry and never recovered in a 57-46 loss. L&T photo/Earl WattLiberal ended the season with the first-ever undefeated regular season at Liberal high School.

“I don’t want this loss to tarnish the season,” Kruger said. “When you dig those big holes you run out of gas trying to come back quickly. I was really proud of our kids and of our fight and effort all season.”

But Gueldner, who signed to play with Drake, knocked down five threes our of nine shots and ended with 31 points.

“I told them during the time out to guard her,” Kruger said. “We had to do a better job. Either that or she is going to get 60. She is a great player. She was the difference in the game. She is a Division 1 college basketball player. It took us too long to get going ourselves. But we never quit, and we easily could have, but they showed thee heart they have.”

Mullens also posted Division 1 numbers.

“She played great and had a great season,” Kruger said.  “She is one of those kids that is a gym rat. We need the rest of our team to get in the gym. We have an opportunity next year, and we have areas where we can improve.”

Whitney Hay and Kim Alarcon also played their last high school basketball game.

“Whitney’s been a stalwart leader,” Kruger said. “She’s dependable, not just a quality player but as a person. She’s a special kid with a special future. Kim has been the heart of our team the last two years. She’s the kind of teammate and worker that allows special seasons like this to happen. We will miss them a lot. I told them in the locker room our younger kids have big shoes to fill.”

He also wanted to balance the will to play with high expectations and the sting of a loss.

“It’s tough,” he said. “That’s athletics though. You see that happen. The New England Patriots go undefeated and it feels like they have the Super Bowl, and the other team makes plays. I don’t think our kids overlooked them but we didn’t come out ready to guard them. That’s the game. We have to move on and hopefully we learn some life lessons and basketball lessons.”

Kruger’s two leading scorers and a host of other experienced players will return next season, and Kruger said that they now know some things they need to improve if they want the result to be better next year.

“It’s going to take a lot of work,” he said. “If we want to get back it will take a lot of work, and if we want a better performance, our players need to look in the mirror and say, ‘we need to get to the level of ball handling like Northwest. We have to get to the level of shooting if we want to compete.’ I think our kids will.  I’ve never been more proud of a group the way they’ve prepared and focused in and been great teammates.”

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