By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-On paper, Garden City had Cloud County beat before they ever stepped foot onto the floor Wednesday afternoon. But the game isn't played on paper, and veteran Head Coach Brett Erkenbrack pulled off a miracle of sorts, one that will be talked about for quite some time.
LaKya Leslie recorded her fourth double-double of the season with 15 points and 13 rebounds, Haven Hamilton had 12 and seven boards, and Cloud County stormed back from 10 down in the second half to beat the Broncbusters 62-58 at Conestoga Arena.
Now to the miracle part.
Cloud County turned the ball over 41 times and their leading scorer, Jacy Dalinghaus, who entered play second in the conference in points per game, was limited to just four on 1-of-7 shooting in 26 uninspiring minutes. Yet, the Thunderbirds found a way, flipping a series of fourth-quarter collapses into a dominating final 10 minutes (Cloud County had allowed 20 or more points in the fourth six times in their first nine games including a season-high 30 in a 20-point loss to South Plains), outscoring the Broncbusters 27-15.
"We took care of our business on defense," Broncbusters' Coach Omega Tandy said. "But on offense, we didn't play together, and when you don't play together, that's what it looks like offensively."
Garden City shot a season-worst 25 percent, missing 17 of their first 20 shots from the field. They were down 11 after one. But in the second, the Broncbusters showed plenty of promise. Dasja Ross made a layup, Deborah Ford completed a three-point play, Alyssa Boyce drained a 3, and Felicity Houston hit from deep, sparking a 14-0 run that put Garden City up 21-18. Moments later, Corina Suarez-Tudela knocked down a triple from the left corner while she was fouled (she missed the free throw), Jaleah Bellany swished a long 3-pointer, and the Broncbusters had a 27-21 advantage thanks to a 20-3 run.
"If we just follow the game plan, it's a different story," Tandy explained. "Cloud was exhausted in the first half, and they were exhausted in the second. We held Dalinghaus to just four points. And we still lost."
That's a hard pill to swallow. Even if Garden City played somewhat terribly offensively, they win the game in a landslide. But their offense was stuck in mud in the first and fourth quarters.
In the third though, Ross started another Broncbuster run, one that saw them outscore Cloud County 9-2 during a three-minute stretch. And when Donetria McGee ended an 0-for-8 shooting day by blowing by Jasmina Jones for a layup, Garden City was up 41-31 with 1:31 to go in the period. They led 43-35 heading to the fourth.
"We should have won this game, no doubt about that," Tandy said. "But we didn't finish again."
Then came the fourth quarter to forget. Garden City shot 4-of-19 over the final 10 minutes and missed all seven of their 3-point attempts. Meantime Cloud County erased the double-digit deficit by going 7-of-8 from the floor (88 percent) and 11-of-15 at the line. They tied the game at 49 on a free throw by Leslie with 3:18 remaining. The next time down, they took a two-point edge following two charity shots by former Ulysses star Alyssa Castilleja. And after Ross tied the game for Garden City, it was Dalinghaus draining her only shot of the game, a 3-pointer from the right wing that put the Thunderbirds up 54-51 with just over two minutes on the clock.
"We took shots that were really uncharacteristic," Tandy said. "We missed layups all day."
And Garden City still had a chance to steal this one in the end. Trailing by four with less than a minute to play, Bellany was fouled. She hit two free throws to make it 60-58. Then, Hidaya Thornton stripped Castilleja and was fouled. After missing both free throws, Thornton once again stripped her backcourt counterpart. But Boyce missed an off-balance 3 from the left wing.
"We got what we want and didn't take advantage of it," Tandy said.
Following a Cloud County timeout, Castilleja, inexplicably turned the ball over again. And after the Broncbusters used their final three remaining timeouts, Ford was in position to tie the game before missing a pointblank layup. Lydia Ostenson then was fouled, hit two free throws for Cloud County, and just like that, the game was over.
"With all the things that we did wrong in this game, it's hard to be successful," Tandy said. "We missed an open layup that would have tied it; what else can you ask for?"
Bellany led the way for Garden City with 15 points, finishing 8-of-8 at the foul line. Boyce chipped in 12, and Dashanae Pajeaud grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
Leslie was 5-of-8 from the floor in 27 minutes for Cloud County, who beat the Broncbusters for the eighth time in their last nine meetings.
Next up: Garden City at Allen-Saturday, Nov. 30-1:45 p.m. pregame; 2 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app