The Newton High School girls’ basketball team dominated the first 5 1/2 minutes and the last four minutes of the Class 5A sub-state finals against the Valley Center Hornets.
Valley Center was in control the rest of the way, but the Railers stayed in charge long enough to claim a 32-25 win Friday night at Ravenscroft Gym.
The Railers used a 10-3 fourth quarter to claim the win. The Hornets were held to nine points in the second half.
“Valley Center is much better than their record,” Newton coach Randy Jordan said. “They are extremely athletic, as athletic as any team we play. They are responsible for some of those turnovers, but we hit a stretch where we reverted back to our old ways.”
The win puts Newton at 17-5. The Railers struggled after a 10-0 start.
“We were a season on the brink for a while,” Jordan said. “When we lost to Bishop Miege (in the Newton Invitational finals), it did something to us, our confidence. Then we lose to Salina Central on a last-second shot. Then we lose to Salina Central in overtime. Then we lose close games to Derby and Maize. We were struggling with our confidence. But these kids didn’t quit. They never gave up. They stayed the course. It’s a life lesson for anybody, what these kids endured this season — what nobody understands but those in the program. We’re a poster child for perseverance.”
Newton was led by DesiRay Kernal with 13 points, the sole player in the game in double figures. Valley Center, which ends the season 14-8, was led by freshman Ellie Shank with eight points.
“Coming off five losses, it’s been hard,” Kernal said. “We had to refocus ourselves. The first half wasn’t our best. We talked in the locker room at the half that we had to win the third and fourth quarters. We wanted it more than Valley Center. They were (physical). We underestimated them because we beat them before. We had to come out strong. They are big and they made a couple of runs, but we had to make up for it.”
“We guarded hard the whole game,” Jordan said. “(Bethany Reeves) is a great player and (Taylor Latimer) is a tough player. Abby (Schmidt) was contesting the heck out of her. Valley Center is much better than their record and I knew that coming in.”
Kernal is the Railers’ leading scorer, but has been coming off the bench most of the season.
“The coaches tell me the team has more energy when I come off the bench,” Kernal said. “We’re winning most of the games, so I guess it works. I have to play my game and, as a team, we have to play our game.”
Newton had 16 turnovers in the first three quarters, but just three in the fourth, none in the last four minutes. Valley Center had nine turnovers the first three quarters and five in the fourth.
Newton was 10 of 17 from the free throw line, while Valley Center was five of 15.
Newton jumped out to an 8-1 lead in the first 5 1/2 minutes of play capped by a Kernal trey. After a Valley Center time out and Newton committed four turnovers, setting up a 6-0 Hornet run to end the quarter.
Valley Center added four points to the run to start the second quarter. Newton continued to have problems with turnovers. Kernal broke the drought with a three-point play with 4:55 to tie the game. Two minutes later, Newton regained the lead on a Bacon putback off a Hornet turnover. Valley Center broke a four-minute drought on an Emily Klusener putback with 54 seconds left in the half. One of two Reeves free throws and a Shank layup off a turnover put Valley Center up by three at the half, 16-13.
Newton had 12 turnovers in the first half to seven for Valley Center. Valley Center was three of six free throw shooting, while Newton was two of five.
Newton turned the ball over on its first two possessions of the second half. After one of two Valley Center free throws, Newton came back with a Taylor Brewer jumper and a Kernal putback to tie the game, but the Railers then gave up a 5-0 run. A Kernal trey and a Simmons jumper tied the game 22-22 at the end of the period.
“When Savannah tied it up at 22, I told my assistant we were going to win,” Jordan said. “I really felt it. Savannah gave us that lift there. We ran a set for Desi late in the game, where she got fouled and hit those free throws.”
A Newton turnover to start the fourth quarter led to a Reeves layup. Newton didn’t score in the period until Kernal hit two free throw with 5:57 remaining to tie the game. Simmons put Newton back in the lead with one of two free throws with 2:55 remaining. Newton got the ball back after trading turnovers. Schmidt hit two free throws for Newton with 2:28 remaining in regulation, her first points of the game. A turnover set up one of two Kyndal Bacon free throws with 1:28. A missed trey attempt for Valley Center set up a Simmons layup with 48 seconds to play.
The Hornets broke the run with one of two Zayda Perez free throws. Schmidt answered with one of two free throws. Valley Center missed two free throws with 13.7 seconds to play. Simmons hit one of two free throws with 11.4 seconds left to seal the win.
“We just rallied after the third quarter,” Simmons said. “We came together as a team in order to rally and beat Valley. We had a spark and it all came together at the end. We have to be able to put it all together at state.”
Newton will be the seventh seed in the tournament and will face either Kansas City Schlagle, Leavenworth, St. Thomas Aquinas or Maize in the first round. All four teams are 19-3. The pairings will be determined today. Other state qualifiers are Salina Central (18-4), Bishop Carroll (18-4) and DeSoto (15-7).
“We’re going to Topeka and I don’t care who we play,” Jordan said. “The kids are confident now. For a coach, that’s all you can ask for is a confident group. We’re coming at them.”
VALLEY CENTER (14-8) — Orr 0 0-0 0, 0; Shank 1 (2) 0-2 2, 8; Rowley 0 1-2 4, 1; Runnion 0 0-0 3, 0; Reeves 2 1-3 2, 5; Perez 1 1-2 2, 3; Klusener 1 2-4 2, 4; Latimer 2 0-2 4, 4; TOTALS 7 (2) 5-15 19, 25.
NEWTON (17-5) — Antonowich 0 0-0 1, 0; Simmons 2 2-4 1, 6; Remsberg 0 0-0 0, 0; Nichols 0 0-0 0, 0; Bacon 2 2-5 2, 6; Kernal 2 (2) 3-3 3, 13; Berry 0 0-0 3, 0; Brewer 1 0-0 2, 2; Schmidt 0 3-4 4, 3; Akers 1 0-1 1, 2; TOTALS 8 (2) 10-17 17, 32.