The Circle High School girls basketball team punched its ticket to a second straight state tournament appearance with a 46-31 win over Abilene in the sub-state championship game Saturday.

“It never gets old,” Circle head coach Brian Henry said after the 15-point win. Henry coached the Lady Thunderbirds to a two seed and a semifinal appearance in last year’s Class 4A-I State Tournament.

“It’s always something to be proud of,” Henry said.

Henry and the Lady Thunderbirds will have another shot at the state title this year, following a convincing run through the sub-state tournament in El Dorado. Top-seeded Circle took care of business in the opening round against El Dorado, 56-10 to set up the championship game against no. 2 seed Abilene.

After Abilene drew within three points late in the third quarter of Saturday’s matchup between the tournament’s top two seeds, Circle went on a run to stretch the lead to seven heading into the final quarter of play.

The Lady Thunderbirds didn’t look back from there.

Carissa Beck hit a three to put the Lady Thunderbirds up 10 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Abilene would get back within single digits once more before four straight points from Raegen Galloway put Circle back ahead by 12.

Circle would lead by double digits for the remainder of the game.

“In the first half, I thought we had good opportunities in the interior, we just didn’t finish some shots inside,” Henry said. “But then we started making some of those shots in the third quarter and that really helped us.”

Beck led Circle with 16 points. Alyson Potter added 11.

Henry said his team is playing its best basketball of the year at the perfect time.

“We’ve started gelling here these last couple weeks, getting people worked in and worked out,” Henry said. “I feel like we’re coming together at the right time.”

The Lady Thunderbirds move to 17-4 on the season, as they head to the Class 4A-I State Tournament next week in Salina.