Photo by Adam Shrimplin
Garden City, KS-Matt Pfeifer didn’t care how it looked. When the final buzzer sounded on Thursday night, the Buffaloes had done something no one on the opposite side of the state thought they could-advance to within a game of the state tournament.
Elyssa Salazar was the lone Buffalo in double figures with 11 points, Keyhana Turner added a game-high 11 rebounds, and Garden City beat Lawrence Free State 33-27 in the 6A Substate semifinals at the Garden. With the win, the Buffaloes move on to play No. 2 Liberal Saturday night.
“No, it wasn’t pretty,” Pfeifer said with a smile after the game. “We made Free State uncomfortable enough to get a win.”
So uncomfortable that the Firebirds fumbled away one possession after another to start the game. Lawrence Free State gave it away five times in the first eight minutes and finished 1-of-7 from the floor in the first, as Garden City held them scoreless the final 4:53 of the quarter to take a 9-4 lead into the second.
“Our girls really paid attention to the scouting report,” Pfeifer said. “They didn’t allow them to get any clean looks.”
Even when it appeared the Firebirds would flip the script in the second, the Buffaloes always had the answer. Once Lawrence Free State cut it to a two-point game on Shannon Clarke’s twisting layup, Nateara Beasley responded with a 3 from the top of the key. Julie Calzonetti added a triple from the left corner, and the Buffaloes had a 17-9 advantage at the half.
“I still think we settled for way too many jumpers,” Pfeifer said. “We told the team-that’s why they’re playing zone.”
Even with all the clanged shots, Garden City built their biggest lead of the night early in the third period on Beasley’s 17 footer that made it 19-9. But that was the last Buffalo basket for nearly nine minutes as Lawrence Free State finished the period on a 6-0 spurt, which included Clarke’s off-balance three-point play. Haley Hippe hit 1-of 2 free throws, and the Firebirds were within four after three.
“Shooting a lot of jumpers is not our game,” Pfeifer explained. “We did just enough to win this one.”
More anxious moments awaited Garden City in the final stanza. After Turner drilled a 3 to put Garden City up eight, 28-20 with 4:24 remaining, the Firebirds quickly answered. Clark sliced in for another three-point play, and Hippe hit a layup to make it a three-point contest. But Lawrence Free State’s undoing: they picked the wrong night to go cold.
The Firebirds had their second worst shooting game of the season (26 percent), and missed a dozen open layups. Then, after pulling to within four in the final 15 seconds, Clarke bricked two free throws. Salazar answered on the other end with two from the stripe, and the Buffaloes punched their ticket to the Substate finals for the third time in the last four years.
Beasley scored nine points for Garden City, who tied the most wins for the program since 2015. Calzonetti finished with seven points and six boards.
Clarke paced the Firebirds with 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting, but the rest of the team was just 3-of-22 (14 percent). They were 1-of-11 from three and surrendered 18 offensive rebounds, the second most in a game for Garden City this season.
Next up: Garden City at Liberal-Saturday, March 2-5:45 p.m. pregame; 6 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app