By RON PRESTON
Opening the first round of the 4A sub-state basketball tournament, the fourth seeded Abilene Cowgirls used great defense, timely rebounds and just enough free throw shooting to come from behind to defeat the fifth seeded Buhler Crusaders 54-48, Tuesday night in the Abilene gym.
“We played a great defensive game, top to bottom, guards, wings and post players, everybody did great,” commented Cowgirl Coach Janelle Geist following the game.
“Buhler didn’t get easy shots and we guarded shots all night long,” added coach Geist.
Buhler opened the game with a quick trey from their freshman guard Jessica Steffen to take an early lead. Steffen scored a game-high 21 points in a losing effort for the Lady Crusaders.
They built that lead into a 15-6 advantage with less than minutes left in the quarter.
The Cowgirls came charging back with a trey from Kiley Crider and an inside bucket by Belle Barbieri and two free throws from Barbieri to close the quarter 15-13, Buhler.
The second quarter saw the Lady Crusaders stretch their lead to as many as nine points midway through the period after the Cowgirls had fought back to tie the game at 19-19 off of free throws from Nichole Taylor, Barbieri and Carly Gassman.
Buhler limited the Cowgirls to one field goal in the second quarter and seven free throws to take a 29-22 lead at half time.
That field goal came from Kurstin Guy off a Gracie Sexton assist with 18 seconds left in the half.
The third quarter belonged to the Cowgirls as Sexton hit two treys and Gassman added an early basket off a Taylor assist and follow that with a baseline trey as the Cowgirls outscored Buhler 15-8 to tie the game 37-37 after three quarters.
Gassman gave the Cowgirls their first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter with a pair of free throws for a 39-37 lead. She would go 8-8 at the free throw line for the game with six of those coming at crucial times in the fourth quarter.
“Carly Gassman going 6-6 at the line in the fourth quarter, that was huge for us,” said coach Geist.
“We practice at least twice each practice time on shooting free throws. The first half tonight we missed enough to be ahead at half time, but in the second half we were much better,” Geist said.
The two teams exchanged baskets and leads throughout the majority of the last quarter.
Buhler called a time out at the 2:55 mark following a Barbieri bucket that gave the Cowgirls the lead for good at 48-47.
Following the timeout, Crider grabbed a key rebound and drove the ball to the far end of the court and then hit a trey from the corner for, 51-47, Cowgirl lead.
Gassman and Barbieri ended the Cowgirl scoring from the free throw line to give them their 12th win of the season, 54-48.
“There are 64 teams beginning tournament play tonight and now there are 32 that will be playing on Friday and it’s great to be one of those 32,” said coach Geist.
“We are thrilled to still be playing. Our goal is to win the next game and then win the next game throughout the tournament,” Geist concluded.
The Cowgirls will host the No. 1 seed Hesston Lady Swathers at 7:30 on Friday in the semi-final round of the tournament.
Abilene 54, Buhler 48
Buhler (10-10) 15 14 8 11- 48
Abilene (12-9) 13 9 1517- 54
Buhler: Steffen 21, Balding 5, Dick 2, Bessmer 4, Williams 8, Torgerson 8.
Abilene: Gassman 13, Guy 6, Sexton 6, Crider 10, Barbieri 16, Taylor 3.