By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-With their leading scorer, Talia Roberts in street clothes and in a walking boot, Garden City first-year coach Charinee Mitchell needed a spark against the 15th-ranked team in the nation.
Cue sophomore guard Jada Washington, who kept the Broncbusters in the game for most of the night. But in the end, the nation's leading scorer, Kaitlyn Potter, had the final say.
Potter scored 22 points in 34 minutes and was the only Cowley County player in double figures, as the Tigers escaped Conestoga Arena with a 68-59 victory on Wednesday night.
"We played really hard," Mitchell said after the game. "It just came down to knocking down shots when we needed them."
But give Mitchell's team a lot of credit. Where most would have pegged them to be blown out by a Tigers' squad who had won their previous 17 games by an average of 28 points, the Broncbusters never wilted, going blow for blow with one of the most complete teams in the conference.
The initial hit came early, when Cowley County (18-2, 12-1) surged out to a 12-4 advantage, six minutes into the opening quarter. But Garden City (11-9, 8-8) responded with a 6-0 surge, sparked by back-to-back 3's by Washington that tied the game at 15 after one.
After the Tigers grabbed a four-point edge in the first 80 seconds of the second, the Broncbusters rattled off nine in a row. Washington buried another 3 and added a steal and layup, Shakendra Tilley nailed a baseline jumper, and the home squad had their largest lead of the game, 24-19 with 4:42 to play in the half.
"We made plays to win the game," Mitchell said. "But I know I sound like a broken record. We have to be consistent. They fought, but it comes down to consistency and knocking down shots."
The lead did not last long for Mitchell's bunch as Brenda Silva completed a three-point play, and Sam Schwab and Kedranea Addison splashed home six straight free throws to put the Tigers in front 27-25. Kala Jones had the last laugh though, hitting two charity shots of her own to knot the score at 27 at the intermission.
"We competed and gave ourselves a chance to win the game," Mitchell added. "We put ourselves in a very good position."
Garden City regained the advantage early in the third on Kelcy McHenry's driving bucket. But Cowley County answered with a hook shot by Silva and a 3-pointer from Potter that pushed the Tigers back in front by three. They led by four going into the fourth, and stretched that lead to six in the first 30 seconds of the final period. But the Broncbusters put themselves in position for the first statement win of the Mitchell era when Daz'Monique Johnson, who missed Saturday's game at Barton County, completed a three-point play to cut the deficit to one with 6:09 remaining. After Silva buried two freebies for the Tigers, Abigail Green hit a layup to make it a one-point contest again.
"Some calls did not go our way down the stretch," Mitchell said. "But that's not why we lost the game. We lost the game because we couldn't hit shots."
Trailing by three with less than three minutes to play, the Broncbusters had a chance to tie the game. But Washington missed a wide-open 3-pointer from the top of the key, and Potter hit a driving layup and two free throws on the other end to give Cowley County a 61-54 lead with 2:11 left.
"I thought that shot by Jada was in," Mitchell said. "It was online but just short."
Mitchell, frustrated with a couple of calls at the end of the game, finally boiled over in the closing minute. And following a whistle on Green, who had clearly intercepted the ball from Brittany Hall, Mitchell was given a technical foul. Potter hit the free throws, Hall added two more, and the game was over.
"It's a fast game, and there were some things I didn't agree with," Mitchell said. "But at the end of the day, we control what we do, not the officials. We needed to make shots, and then we win the game."
Schwab pulled down 10 rebounds and scored eight points for Cowley County, who won their sixth game in a row, and stayed in a tie with Seward County for first place in the Jayhawk Conference. Silva added nine points.
Washington scored 12 of her season-high 21 points for the Broncbusters, playing all 40 minutes. She added four rebounds, three assists, one steal, and tied a season-high with four 3's. Johnson chipped in 11 on 4-of-8 shooting.
Next up: Garden City at Allen-Saturday, Jan. 27-1:45 p.m. pregame; 2 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app