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Hutchinson, KS (westernkansasnews.com)-David Upton told his team all week that he wanted them to see what a No. 1 team looked like.
Call it prophetic, but the ninth-year Buffalo Coach got his wish.
It’s go time.
Abbie Dart scored 14 of her game-high 18 points in the second half including the go-ahead jumper with 1:55 to go, as Garden City beat Hutchinson 34-29 in the substate semifinals Wednesday night at the Salthawks Activity Center.
With the win, the Buffaloes advanced to the substate finals to take on top-ranked Wichita South on Friday.
“I’m so proud of these girls,” Upton said afterwards. “I’m speechless right now. It’s hard to put this one into words. Both teams made runs. We just made ours late.”
Neither team did much early, but it was Hutchinson who built a 7-2 edge late in the first. Dart responded by knocking down a buzzer-beating shot from the top of the key that pulled the Buffaloes to within two at the end of one.
“Abbie was big for us tonight,” Upton said. “She took over in the second half.
But for much of the first half, the junior guard was held in check, missing five of her first six shots as the Salthawks built a 10-4 advantage with 5:54 to go in the half. But Dart hit two free throws, Isabel Longoria splashed home her first 3-pointer of the year and Josie Calzonetti added two freebies that tied the game at 11.
“We battled back,” Upton said. “Every time they did something we responded.”
Hutchinson (7-14, 3-9) had the last laugh of the half when Connor Atkinson hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the second period to give the Salt Hawks a 14-11 lead at the break.
Dart took it from there.
Her three-point play to begin the third tied it at 14. Then with the Buffaloes up two, Dart scored five straight including a 3-pointer from the right wing to give Garden City (7-14, 0-8) their biggest lead of the night 23-16 with 2:41 to play in the third. ‘
“I knew after the Liberal game that if our girls play like that, we can hang with anyone,” Upton said. “It wasn’t pretty tonight, but we got it done.”
The Salthawks didn’t go away quietly. Madyson Regier and Atkinson knocked down back-to-back jumpers before Abby Hefley spun one home to pull Hutchinson to within two 24-22 heading into the fourth. They eventually tied it with Raegan Wessel’s runner to open the final period.
“They tied it; then we took the lead; then they took the lead,” Upton said. “It was that type of game. But we made the plays that we had to make. This is a great team win.”
After Wessel knotted the score, Hutchinson turned it over on back-to-back sequences leading to a Lexi Hogan basket and a Dart layup that gave the Buffaloes a four-point edge.
But the Salthawks answered again. Wessel hit a contested jumper before Brookey Ackley drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give Hutchinson a 29-28 advantage with 2:03 to go.
That was their last bucket of the night.
Dart quickly answered with a long deuce and two free throws to put Garden City back up by three 32-29 with 35 seconds.
Then Upton got the defensive stop he was looking for.
Following a Salthawks timeout, the veteran coach made a subtle chess move.
“We made a switch,” Upton said. “We moved Tiffany to the top.”
That defensive switched changed the game, and Butler’s steal with 10 seconds left all but sealed it. It was redemption for the senior, who had missed the front end of a 1-and-1 just moments earlier. This time she sank a pair, and the Buffaloes celebrated their second trip to the substate finals in the past three seasons.
“Now we’re going to see a team that’s athletic and smart,” Upton said in reference to Wichita South. “Coach (Antwain) Scales does an unbelievable job with those girls.”
Calzonetti scored five points and pulled down seven boards for the Buffaloes, who snapped a five-game losing streak.
Atkinson paced the Salthawks with eight points. The senior, whose season was in doubt following an ankle injury in the second-to-last game of the season vs. Newton, was just 3-of-8 from the floor. Wessel added six and sophomore post Kasey Hazell chipped in five and six rebounds.
Next up: Garden City vs. No. 1 Wichita South-Friday, March 4-6:45 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr; mobile app: KWKR and tuneinradio app: KWKR