By JAYCEE DALE
EMPORIA — The first trip to the Class 5A state tournament in a few years for the Hays High School boys’ basketball team was a memorable one.
And, there’s more memories to be made.
The Indians claimed a 46-43 opening-round win over Topeka-Highland Park on Wednesday night at White Auditorium in Emporia.
Hays High entered the tourney as the No. 3 seed, while the Scots were the No. 6 seed.
The Indians had to overcome a rough start to the game, as Highland Park bolted to a 15-5 lead.
Hays High fired back in the second quarter, pulling within seven at halftime — 22-15.
Despite the deficit, the Indians made a push in the third quarter. HHS cut the margin to one but never did manage to take the lead, eventually trailing 34-33 entering the fourth quarter.
T.J. Nunnery gave Hays High its first lead of the game after sinking a 3-pointer with six minutes left.
Highland Park didn’t flinch, pulling back ahead by one with 3 minutes to go.
But just as he had done all game long, Carson Kieffer came up big for the Indians. He scored with two minutes remaining and was fouled. That pushed the lead to three for HHS.
Highland Park trimmed the margin to one point before Kieffer hit two free throws with 1:50 to play.
The Scots tied the game with 1:30 to go after a 3-pointer. As HHS worked the clock on offense, Kieffer was fouled with 26 seconds remaining.
He hit one free throw to give the Indians a slim advantage.
Highland Park missed a 3-pointer at the other end, and Nunnery was fouled. He hit both free throws to make it 46-43 with three seconds to play.
A desperation 3 by the Scots at the end was well off the mark, allowing HHS to advance.
Kieffer finished with a career-high 19 points, and Nunnery had 14. Dalyn Schwarz finished with 10.
The Indians (17-6) will play Basehor-Linwood (21-2) at 8:15 p.m. Friday in the semifinals in Emporia. The winner advances to Saturday’s 6;15 p.m. title game, while the loser falls into the third-place game at 2 p.m. Saturday.