By Blake Spurney
Hesston Record Staff
HILLSBORO — Winning all three games gave the Hesston Lady Swathers their first-ever Trojan Classic title.
They also extended their winning streak to 28 games, tying the boys team's record that was broken in the third game this season.
But maybe more importantly, they showed they could handle good competition comfortably even while their main post presence was riddled with foul trouble. Kelsey Unruh, a 6-foot-1 senior, went to the bench with two fouls Saturday evening when only 100 seconds had ticked off the clock. She also picked up her third and fourth fouls fairly quickly, but Hesston soundly beat Clay Center 53-31.
"We had been talking about this scenario all year and knew we would have to go to the bench," said head coach Matt Richardson.
"They're a big, physical team," he added. "We needed to have a game like this."
Hesston made it to the finals by downing Riley County 54-27 on Friday. The Lady Swathers beat Flint Hills Job Corps 78-2 on Tuesday, which sounds brutal until one considers that Holcomb, which finished sixth, beat the same team by 78-3.
Richardson said the bench players did a better job of communicating on the court against Clay Center than at any other point in the season, particularly Ally Short, Kylie Brenneman, Katelyn Hageman and Kailey Jo Ince. He had to go deep into the bench due to Unruh's foul trouble.
"The refs picked on me a little bit," she said. "I didn't think they were fouls, but I don't know — nothing you can do about it."
Unruh said Ince and others did a good job even though they're not used to doing the "dirty work" of guarding the big girl.
"It wasn't pretty, but I think we improved in a lot of areas," she said.
Freshman Kailey Jo Ince said she was surprised that she got to play so many minutes (11), and she held her own against the big Clay Center squad.
"It was way more aggressive and it was more competition, and I just liked playing out there a lot," she said. "They all told me to step up and work hard."
Senior Caylee Richardson turned in a typical outstanding stat line with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Clay Center's leading scorer was Courtney Hammel with nine.
On Friday, junior Cami Richardson didn't take long to shake off the rust after sitting out the first-round game with an ankle injury. She sank a three-point 17 seconds into the Riley County game. The Lady Swathers raced to a 16-4 lead and never were challenged. Hageman's basket and free throw in the fourth quarter triggered the running-clock rule after Hesston led by 31 points.
"Second half, we really started moving the ball much better, and we got more comfortable from the perimeter," he said. "And everything is easier when your perimeter shots are going down."
Hesston shot 62 percent from inside the arc (16-26) and 33 percent from beyond (4-12). The Lady Swathers held the ball for more than a minute while playing for the last shot in the third quarter, and Nebel drained a long two-pointer — her foot was on the line — from the corner on a set play.
"She'd had two before then. Feed the hot hand," Richardson said about the play.
Caylee did an exceptional job working the glass. She finished with 11 rebounds, and her work at constantly fighting for position led to teammates getting rebounds.
Richardson said the Flint Hills coach didn't say "Good game" after Tuesday's blowout. Instead, they said, "Thanks for playing us."