By Mike Pilosof
Listen to the complete game in our archives section
Dodge City, KS-Most coaches will tell you that playing with a lead in the second half is their biggest challenge. Playing with a commanding edge; now that's even more daunting.
Sounds silly, right? Garden City Coach Nick Salazar does not think so.
Salazar watched his team nearly cough up a 24-point lead, then hold on in the final seconds as the Broncbusters snapped a season-long six-game losing streak with a 68-63 win over Dodge City Saturday afternoon at the Student Activity Center.
"First off-I want to give all the credit to Dodge City," Salazar said. "With their situation, their effort was great. We are fortunate to come out with a win, but we will take it."
It has been a long couple of weeks for first-year Dodge City Coach Zach Loll. Suspensions and injuries forced his team to suit up only seven players on Saturday. In fact, it was just 10 days ago that the Conquistadors had to forfeit their game at Coffeyville because they did not have enough players to field a team.
"It's an unusual situation," Salazar admitted. "But he (Loll) did what he thought was necessary. In the end, we could not worry about who was on the floor."
Over the last week and a half, Loll was forced to fill his roster with track and volleyball athletes; most of whom had not played basketball in nearly two years.
"Odd is one way to describe it," Salazar said. "
The Broncbusters took advantage early, scoring the first seven points of the game on 3-pointers by Megan Besecker and Monica Barefield. They stretched that lead to 10-2 before Dodge City rallied to cut the deficit to one on three separate occasions to close the first quarter. More specifically-Alexus Johnson did.
Johnson did her best to keep Dodge City in it, scoring 16 straight points during one stretch. But her team still trailed 26-18.
"We could not guard Johnson," Salazar said. "She got whatever she wanted."
Garden City (8-15, 6-13) took full command of the game in the second quarter, closing the half on a 10-0 run and waltzing into halftime with a 38-20 advantage.
Nothing really changed early in the third as the Broncbusters stretched the lead to 24 on Kavita Akula's baseline jumper. But as they've done so many times this season, Garden City went silent, mustering just one field goal over the final 7:00 of the third.
"We continue to struggle on offense," Salazar said. "Our defense has played well, but our offense still has not come around."
Dodge City closed the third on a 17-7 spurt and trailed by 14 entering the fourth. But the game flipped well before the fourth quarter ever began.
Johnson, picked up a technical foul for arguing a call late in the third. To that point she had scored 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting. Loll pulled his star player, who sat on the bench for the final 11 minutes of the contest.
"I don't know what would have happened in that fourth quarter if Johnson was out there," Salazar said. "But give her teammates credit-they stepped up when they were down."
Mariah Watkins drained one of her two, fourth-quarter treys that pulled Dodge City (4-19, 4-15) to within 11 with 6:15 to go. After Barefield answered with a bucket for Garden City, Ortiz connected on a 3-pointer to make it 61-51 with 5:10 left. Then the Conquistadors finally cut the lead to single digits when Sada Smith connected on back-to-back shots, pushing Dodge City to within eight.
"We couldn't do anything in that fourth quarter," Salazar said. "It was very frustrating."
Dakota Hoffman, who guided Dighton to their first state championship in school history last season, hit two free throws to make it 66-60 with 1:06 left. After the Broncbusters turned it over, Watkins buried another triple to make it a three-point game with 17 seconds.
"We just had to find a way to hang on."
Dodge City never got the chance to tie the game. Barefield hit two free throws with four seconds remaining, putting an end to an incredible surge by a team that was left for dead after being outscored 18-6 in the second quarter.
DeRae Lewis notched her seventh double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out. Barefield added 14 and Leon'Dra Hawkins, who started in place of Tionnia McKee, netted 11. Akula chipped in 10.
Johnson finished with 20 points for Dodge City, who lost for the 12th time in their last 13 games. Smith added 16 points on 7-of-12 from the field.
Next up: Garden City vs. Hutchinson-Wednesday, Feb. 5:45 p.m. pregame; 6 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app