Lady Chiefs return to quarterfinals

Thursday, March 3, 2016
Sophomore Kylee Kuecker came through down the stretch for the Lady Chiefs. (Chris Allen/Democrat-News)

KANSAS CITY - Sophomore Kylee Kuecker stepped to the free-throw line with 1.7 seconds remaining Wednesday without having scored a point.

No problem. She coolly sank both shots to seal the ninth-ranked Santa Fe girls' basketball team's second straight win in the MSHSAA Class 2 Sectionals at Kansas City, 57-53 over No. 7 North Platte.

"How big were they?" Lady Chiefs head coach Jeremy Hobbs asked rhetorically. "Taking [the lead] from one possession to two possessions, everyone kind of understood. That's the change of the game."

The seeds for this victory were planted with a loss two weeks earlier. After reeling off 15 straight wins, the previous 13 by double digits, Santa Fe hadn't been battle tested - nor would it be again afterwards - until dropping a 48-46 decision to Smithville, a good Class 4 club.

"That game prepared us so much for the post-season," Hobbs noted. "This is another game that will prepare us hopefully for Saturday."

Both teams were slow getting started, and neither could take command, partly due to the combined 13 turnovers during the first quarter. The lead changed hands seven times through the opening 10 minutes, the Lady Panthers in front 15-13 after senior Madelynn Lee's three-pointer and Santa Fe going back in front when sophomore Cara Hinz connected from outside.

North Platte never led again, sophomore Sadie Limback's stick-back with 15 seconds left in the half sending the Lady Chiefs into the break with a five-point lead. However, the theme which would keep the contest tight had been established: Santa Fe dominating the boards, with nine offensive rebounds producing 12 second-chance points, and the Lady Panthers getting takeaways - although converting points in only two of 12 of them.

"Early in the game I think we were over-thinking it, not sure how to attack," Hobbs explained "We hadn't seen a 1-3-1 zone [defense] the whole year, the way they were sagging."

The Lady Chiefs were held scoreless for three minutes to begin the second half, North Platte getting two buckets after turnovers to pull to within a point. Then senior Kylie Limback took over in the post, with nine points during a three-minute span in which Santa Fe stretched its lead to six points.

Freshman Josey Burton ended the third period and began the fourth by putting back missed shots, the Lady Chiefs extending the hap to 47-38 when Limback powered her way inside with 4:20 left.

"Tough shots, and that was testament to the strength of our post play," Hobbs said of the contest baskets made by the Limback girls, who combined for 39 points. "North Platte (24-5) did a good job moving when the ball was in the air. We threw some soft passes."

The final two minutes, though, was nerve-wracking for Santa Fe. The Lady Panthers went on a 10-2 run, senior Erin Manville and sophomore Gracie Roach driving to the rack after back-to-back turnovers to tie the game with 35 seconds left.

With 21 second to go, the Limbacks put the Lady Chiefs back in front when Kylie found Sadie open down low. North Platte's missed shot went out of bounds with 7.7 seconds remaining and Kuecker got the ball across the center line before being fouled and closing it out from the stripe.

"We asked Kylee to do a lot," Hobbs said. Although ballhandling was sometimes a problem, "we put her in some tough spots. Without her, we don't win that game."

Behind Sadie Limback's 17 rebounds, Santa Fe (26-2) held a 42-24 advantage on the glass, turning 18 offensive boards into 19 points.

The win sends the Lady Chiefs to Lee's Summit on Saturday for a quarterfinal rematch with third-ranked Skyline of Urbana, which held on for a 45-43 decision a year ago. Although his players "are one game at a time and don't overlook people," Hobbs say "they're excited" to face the Lady Tigers again.

"They're ready to play Skyline," Hobbs remarked. "The girls get up for those games. There's no better team to do that against than Skyline."

Contact Chris Allen at callen@marshallnews.com

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