O'Brien scores off steals to lift Halstead

Mark Schnabel
The Kansan
Halstead senior Kaleigh O’Brien scored 16 points, including a pair of layups off steals in the finals 73 seconds, to lead the Dragons to a 40-36 win over Hesston. Halstead wins back-to-back sub-state titles for the first time in school history.
Halstead senior Karenna Gerber tries to block a shot during play Saturday against Hesston. Gerber scored 14 points in a 40-36 Halstead win.
Halstead senior Madison McClain takes a shot during play Saturday in Hesston. The Dragons play at 7 p.m. Monday at Cheney in the state quarterfinals.
Hesston sophomore Anna Humphreys takes a free throw during sub-state play in Hesston. The Swathers end the season 15-7.
Hesston senior Alex Martin handles the ball during the sub-state finals Saturday in Hesston. Martin is the sole senior on the Swather squad.
Hesston junior Harley Ferralez holds off a challenge from Halstead senior senior Kaleigh O'Brien during play Saturday in Hesston.

HESSTON — Down one point in the final 73 seconds of play, Kaleigh O’Brien scored a pair of layups off by Parker Schroeder and O’Brien herself to lift the Halstead Dragon girls basketball team to a 40-36 win over the rival Hesston Swathers on Saturday afternoon in the Class 3A sub-state finals in Hesston.

“I just knew we needed a basket. I knew we needed the ball in our hands,” O’Brien said.

“We got the deflections Parker and Kaleigh have gotten all year,” Halstead coach Derek Schutte said. “They were getting a lot of steals and they came up with the three biggest ones when it mattered. It’s exciting. Back-to-back sub-state championships, another first for Halstead girls’ basketball. They have only played four sub-state championships altogether. My hat’s off the girls. They didn’t quit.  When things weren’t going our way, they stuck with it.”

Halstead avenges a 44-31 loss to Hesston from earlier this season.

O’Brien led Halstead with 16 points. Karenna Gerber added 14 points, playing most of the game in foul trouble.

“Karenna is a huge part of our offense,” O’Brien said. “(Double teaming Gerber) did make it easier to get open. (The return to state) took a lot of teamwork, a lot of hard work, a lot of practice. It was just working as a team. Everybody wanting it.”

Halstead advances to state for just the second time in school history. Last year’s trip opened with a double-overtime win over Scott City only to be told in the locker room after the game the remainder of the tournament was canceled.

“That was heartbreaking,” O’Brien said. “We were so excited to keep going in state.”

Hesston was led by Caryn Yoder with 15 points.

“That is a great defensive team out there and we just got tired,” Hesston coach Matt Richardson said. “You let a team like that get in transition, it’s going to come back to bite you. If we can keep O’Brien out of transition and in the half court, we did a good job on Gerber the first time we played them. Katie Kueker and Harley Ferralez did a great job of bottling up the middle and keeping them from driving on us. They made things difficult for us.” 

The biggest lead for either team in the first quarter was four points until Yoder launched  35-footer at the buzzer off the backboard and into the basket to put Hesston ahead 19-14.

Halstead’s O’Brien made a 5-0 run in the second quarter. Yoder broke the shutout for Hesston with a three-point play with 2:04 left in the half. An Alex Martin shot in the final minute kept Hesston up at the half, 24-22.  Yoder hit another 35-footer that was ruled after the buzzer.

Hesston’s Kueker scored the first basket of the third quarter nearly three minutes into the period. Halstead had several fast-break chances the Dragons couldn’t convert.

Gerber broke Halstead’s drought on a short jumper with 2:36 left in the period. Hesston led 30-27 at the end of the quarter.

Halstead opened the fourth quarter with an O’Brien layup. Halstead missed several chances to take the lead, allowing Harley Ferralez to hit a layup to put the Swathers back up by three.

O’Brien put the Dragons back in the lead with 1:13 remaining on a layup, set up by a Schroeder steal. O’Brien followed with a steal of her own for a layup.

Schroeder got another steal and was fouled with 33.4 seconds to play, missed both free throws, but got her own rebound. Gerber hit one of two free 6.2 seconds later.

Anna Humphreys hit two free throws with 14.3 seconds remaining to get Hesston back within two. Gerber replied with two free throws in the remaining time.

Hesston ends the season 15-7, winning 10 of their last 12 games. The Swathers lose just one senior, Alex Martin.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team improve as much as this team has,” Richardson said. “They started the season 5-5. Alex Martin then came on and started playing great basketball. We started doing some things differently and sharing the basketball. We started playing well on the defensive end.”

Halstead, 20-3, faces top-ranked Cheney at 7 p.m. Monday in the Class 3A state quarterfinals in Cheney. The Cardinals advanced with a 55-51 win over Eureka in the Douglass sub-state. The Halstead-Cheney winner advances to the semifinals Thursday at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.

Halstead players celebrate their 40-36 win over Hesston during their Class 3A Sub-State championship game Saturday. Halstead advances to the state semifinal round.
Halstead's Karenna Gerber (5) shoots over Hesston's Talby Duerksen (34) during their Class 3A Sub-State championship game Saturday. Halstead defeated Hesston  40-36 and advances to the state semifinal round.

Halstead fell to Cheney 57-47 in the finals of the Haven Invitational at midseason.

“It’s kind of different,” Schutte said of the one day of rest before the start of state. “The girls will be excited for that. They’d play in 30 minutes if they have to. (Cheney) is really good. They score in a lot of ways. We need to take care of the ball. We have to defend them and turn that into offense. We have to keep the score down.”

HESSTON (15-7) — Kaiser 1 0-0 1, 2; Ferralez 1 0-0 5, 2; Yoder 4 (2) 1-1 4, 15; Funk 0 0-0 0, 0; Martin 1 2-4 4, 4; Humphreys 0 5-9 3, 5; Bartell 0 0-0 1, 0; Kueker 4 0-2 2, 8; TOTALS 11 (2) 8-16 20, 36.

HALSTEAD (20-3) — Lewis 0 0-0 1, 0; O’Brien 6 4-5 4, 16; Schroeder 0 0-2 4, 0; Gerber 4 6-15 4, 14; Kelley 0 0-0 0, 0; Schutte 0 0-0 0, 0; Engel 0 (1) 0-0 3, 3; McClain 3 1-2 2, 7; TOTALS 13 (1) 11-24 19, 40.

Hesston;19;5;6;6;—;36

Halstead;14;8;5;13;—;40

Mark Schnabel can be reached at mschnabel@thekansan.com.