By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Playing shorthanded on Saturday night, Garden City finally figured out a way to finish in the clutch, something that had eluded them in their first seven games.
Tionnia McKee netted a game-high 18 points, DeRae Lewis added 14 including the go-ahead bucket with 21 seconds to play, and the Broncbusters snapped a three-game losing streak with a 57-54 win over Independence on Saturday night at the Perryman Athletic Complex.
"I'm not really sure what to say," Salazar said with a big smile. "We have so many more conference games to play. But we needed this one."
Garden City was playing without guard Monica Barefield, who was attending her grandfather's funeral.
"We needed everyone to step up in this one, and they did," Salazar said."
But it took a while for the Broncbusters offense to come to life. They missed nine of their first 12 shots and turned it over five times in the first quarter.
Things began to change in the second period thanks to Mckee, whose 3-pointer from the top gave the Broncbusters their first leading since the opening minute 21-20. She followed that up with a runner in the lane before Angel Muir capped a 7-0 run with a layup that gave the Broncbusters a 25-20 edge with five minutes to play in the first half.
Garden City would not score again the rest of the period while the Pirates netted the final five points of the half to tie the game at 25 at the break.
"We still go through those stretches where we struggle to score," Salazar said. "Sometimes we don't make things easy for ourselves."
That scoreless drought reached nearly eight minutes before Jessica Carillo hit two free throws early in the third. But the Broncbusters went more than 10 minutes between field goals. That run ended with Lewis's layup that cut the Pirates once six-point edge down to two midway through the third.
"I just hope it's not too late in conference play before this steam shows their potential," Salazar said. "I keep saying that we have a very talented team."
And his two best players shined bright when Salazar needed them the most.
Lewis and Mckee combined to score 12 of Garden City's 14 points in the fourth quarter. Mckee went on her own 8-0 spurt that she capped with a trey that tied the game at 53 with two minutes to go. Then after Cierra Palmer split two free throws to put Independence (4-4, 2-3) on top by one, it was Lewis stampeding down the middle of the lane and knocking down a five-footer over Palmer that gave the Broncbusters the lead for good.
"She's (Lewis) special," Salazar said. "There were so many times this team could have quit during the game and they didn't. That makes me proud."
The Pirates had two chances in the final 20 seconds to make their move. On the first, Alex Akuen missed a baby hook from the right block. Kavita Akula grabbed the Garden City rebound; was fouled and sank two free throws to make it a three-point contest.
In the waning seconds, Jay-Nee Alston got a good look at a 3-pointer from the top of the key that would have tied it. But the shot sailed wide left at the buzzer, and Garden City ran off the court with their third straight victory over Independence.
"It wasn't the best offensive game," Salazar admitted. "But we did enough to win. That's all that matters."
The Broncbusters shot 34 percent; their second straight game under 40. Lewis pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds, notching her third double-double of the season. Leon'Dra Hawkins added seven points, and Carillo had six.
Erica Moore scored 13 points for the Pirates, who lost their third game in their last four outings. Alston added nine points and Sara Hadjukovich pulled down a team-best 10 rebounds.
Next up: Garden City vs. Dodge City-Wednesday, Nov. 30-5:45 p.m. pregame; 6 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and mobile app: KWKR