No. 1-ranked Jaguars hold off No. 4 Salina Central, 66-56

Second-half run lifts Andover Central past Mustangs.

Arne Green
Butler County Times Gazette
Andover Central's Madelyn Amekporfo (25) and Brittany Harshaw (22) contest a shot by Salina Central guard Landry Stewart (11) during the third quarter Friday night at Salina Central.of the game Friday at Salina Central.

SALINA — Salina Central did not make life comfortable for Andover Central's girls, but then again they weren't expecting a walk in the park on their Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League Division II rival's home court.

That said, the Class 5A No. 1-ranked Jaguars never blinked either, as Salina Central matched them basket for basket deep into the second half. Instead they seized control with a pivotal run at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth to pull away for a 66-56 victory over the fourth-ranked Mustangs on Friday night.

With the win, Andover Central remained unbeaten at 13-0 with a 7-0 AVCTL-II record.

"I thought we kept our composure and played good defense," said Jaguars junior guard Ellie Stearns, who scored six of her team-high 18 points in the fourth quarter. "Our defense leads to our offense, and we have a lot of players, not just our starters, so that makes us hard to guard."

The Jaguars went in front for good, 41-39, on Brittany Harshaw's 3-pointer with 3:35 left in the third quarter. Her three-point play at the 1:03 mark then started an 11-3 surge to close the period and start the fourth.

Stearns' corner 3-pointer with 6:30 left, finished the run and gave the Jaguars the breathing room they needed at 54-45. Despite a big fourth quarter from Aubrie Kierscht, Salina Central got no closer than six the rest of the way.

Andover Central hit 8 of 12 free throws in the final 5 1/2 minutes to ice it.

"They're certainly deserving of their No. 1 ranking," said Salina Central coach Chris Fear, whose Mustangs fell to 10-4 overall and 5-2 in the AVCTL with both division losses coming against Andover Central. "They can hurt you in so many ways.

"Unfortunately, tonight we gave them way too many second-chance opportunities. The difference tonight was their offensive rebounding. I liked how we played otherwise."

Salina Central also had trouble scoring inside against Harshaw and Madelyn Amekporfo.

"That was certainly the story of the game," Fear said. "We had multiple opportunities right at the rim, and when you're playing the No. 1 team in the state, you have to make those."

For Andover Central, which shot 40% from the floor and made 7 of 17 3-point attempts, Stearns was 3 of 4 from beyond the arc and made all three of her free throws in the fourth quarter. The Jaguars also got 17 points from Harshaw — 15 in the second half — and 16 from Bailey Wilborn.

Each team had 37 rebounds, with Brayden Wheatley coming off the bench to grab 11 for Andover Central. For Andover Central, Kierscht scored 11 of her game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter. Mykayla Cunningham added 13 points and Chaliscia Samilton eight points and 11 rebounds.

Salina Central boys 61, Andover Central 56

Salina Central's Caden Kickhaefer scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to break a 41-all tie and put the Mustangs in front for good. The Mustangs then used an 8-2 run midway through the period to go up 57-48 on a pair of Reed McHenry free throws with 1:11 left.

Kickhaefer had 15 of his 27 points in the first half and added seven more in the fourth quarter to lead Salina Central, which improved to 5-9 overall and 3-4 in AVCTL-II. McHenry scored 15 of his 22 in the second half.

For Andover Central (2-7, 2-5), Skyler Clevenger led all scorers with 29 points, while Matthew Sears had nine points and 12 rebounds.