Living on the edge doesn’t seem to faze Salina Central's girls.
At least it hasn't caught up with them yet.
Three days after a narrow three-point escape at Hutchinson, the Mustangs nearly squandered a 20-point lead against Salina South on Friday night but righted the ship in time to claim a 51-39 victory over the Cougars at the Central gym.
"Both games we played this week were real gut-check games," Central coach Chris Fear said after his Mustangs, ranked No. 4 in Class 5A, pushed their record to 13-2 overall, 8-1 in Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League Division I. "We could have lost both games.
"We played really well at the end of the game (against South) and found a way to win."
The Mustangs were well on their way to a blowout when Aubrie Kierscht hit two free throws with 3:31 left in the third quarter for a 38-18 advantage. But South stormed back to close the period on a nine-point run, then added an Acacia Weis 3-pointer to start the fourth that trimmed it to 38-30.
After two Kierscht free throws stopped the bleeding for Central, the Cougars reeled off seven more, getting two foul shots from Lauren Raubenstine, a driving layup from Weis and a Sydney Peterson 3-pointer that trimmed it to 40-37 with 3:28 remaining. But Central wasted no time freeing up Kierscht at the top of the circle for a 3-pointer to double the lead, and Hampton Williams tacked on a three-point play at the 2:25 mark that pushed it to nine.
"I think we just had to calm down," said Williams, who finished with 13 points and a team-high 13 rebounds. "I think with the environment and the crowd, we got a little excited."
Kierscht's 3-pointer — she led all scorers with 18 points — triggered an 11-2 Central run to close the game, with South managing just two Kylie Arnold free throws the rest of the way. The Mustangs, who were just 8 of 18 from the foul line through the first three quarters, hit 8 of 12 in the fourth, including 4 of 6 in the final minute.
"I just thought about it as any other game or practice," said sophomore Landry Stewart, who hit 3 of 4 pressure-packed free throws in the last 53 seconds to help ice the game. Stewart came off the bench to finish with 10 points for the Mustangs, burying two first-quarter 3-pointers.
"My team driving (to the basket) helped me get open looks and I just shot it," she said. "I just wanted to get a little energy going."
The Mustangs had plenty of energy early, bolting to a 12-3 lead behind three 3-pointers from Stewart and Williams. They extended it to 30-16 at halftime.
"We didn't play very well in the first half," said South coach Ryan Stuart, whose Cougars fell to 8-8 overall, 4-5 in the AVCTL. "I thought we kind of weathered that and got it to 14-9, but then we forgot about our game plan, and Central punished us for our mistakes.
"I'm proud of the way we fought back and continued to play hard. We felt we had a decent game plan, but bottom line, you've got to execute and Central made enough plays to win."
Peterson led the way for South with 15 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, and Lizzy Franco came off the bench to grab nine rebounds. But the Cougars shot just 24.4% from the field and were 6 of 24 from 3-point range.
Central, after shooting 50% in the first half, was just 3 of 18 from the field after intermission to finish at 35%, but made 11 of 16 free throws after the break. But the Mustangs outrebounded South, 41-30.
"That eight minutes or so from the middle of the third quarter, we just completely lost our aggressiveness and they made us pay," Fear said. "But to our credit, we were able to get it together and played really well the last three minutes to finish it off."