By MaKENNA ALLEN
Basketball returned to Hays on Friday, and so did success for the Fort Hays State University women’s basketball team.
The Tigers won their fourth-straight game with a convincing 80-60 victory over Northeastern State University.
The win extends the longest conference winning streak for the FHSU women’s team as they have now bested the RiverHawks in the last 15-straight games. The RiverHawks drop to 2-4 for season, while the Tigers remain undefeated at 4-0.
From the beginning, the Tigers built a strong lead over the RiverHawks. In fact, the Tigers never trailed during the game.
A hot opening that began with a 3-pointer from freshman Sydney Golladay gave the Tigers an early lead before Olivia Hollenbeck made it on the board with a three-point play. Seniors, Whitney Randall and Jaden Hobbs contributed to the effort until the Tigers had racked up 11 unanswered points just minutes into the game.
After a RiverHawk timeout, Northeastern was able to finally crack the scoreboard with three points from junior Meagan Lee. The back-and-forth quarter resulted in the RiverHawks trailing by six.
The decreased deficit was short-lived in the second quarter after a quick layup from junior Cydeny Bergmann. The RiverHawks, however, answered with another 3 to cut the lead once again. A combined effort by Hollenbeck, Bergmann and Hobbs gave the Tigers their largest lead of the half at 34-20.
The Tigers were unable to maintain the lead as Northeastern closed the gap to 10-points when the clock ran down on the first half, 34-24.
In comparison to their previous games this season that have included relatively stagnant first halves, the Tigers were strong offensively. During the first half, FHSU hit 48% from the field and 44.4% from beyond the arc. While the RiverHawks were just 50% from the free-throw line, the Tigers were 66.7%.
The effort to improve early in games has been a recent emphasis for the team.
“I think it’s important to start the game off well. It sets the tone for the rest of the game,” Hobbs said. “That’s something we really emphasize, just being prepared and ready to go from the jump.”
FHSU head coach Tony Hobson said he was satisfied with the team’s performance in the first half.
“I thought we got off to a much better start primarily because we got shots, got good looks, got a couple of good ones in transition, kind of got into the flow early,” Hobson said. “Our lull came later on in the second quarter, but we got off to a much better start.”
Seeking to build upon their first-half momentum, the Tigers worked to mount an offensive effort that ultimately gave them a 16-point lead.
Though the Tigers led 46-30 early in the third quarter, the RiverHawks once again cut that figure to single digits just minutes later.
While the RiverHawks struggled back from the double-digit deficit, their success was short-lived. Randall, Hobbs and Bergmann came alive to extend the Tiger lead to 17 points.
In typical Tiger-fashion for this season, FHSU produced a strong second-half effort to build a commanding lead. Heading into the final quarter, the Tigers held tight to their largest lead thus far. They utilized their remaining 10 minutes on the court to extend their 17-point lead to 19-points with a shot from freshman Jessie Sallach.
The Tigers did not stop here, either. A three-point play by senior Maddison Mittie gave the team a 20-point advantage with just more than a minute left in the game. With just seconds remaining, Carly Thompson was able to put her own two points on the board to help the Tigers maintain the significant advantage.
The resulting 20-point victory proved to be a team effort, with 10 Tigers all contributing to the overall score. Hobbs led the charge with 20 points, six assists and three steals, and Randall finished with 18 points after playing only limited minutes in the first half with three fouls.
“You can tell when she’s in there, the scoring goes a lot better,” Hobson said of Randall. “She shot it better than she has and did a really good job of staying in the game the second half and still playing hard.”
Cydney Bergmann added 15 points and six rebounds.
The FHSU freshmen played a key role in the victory, combining for 23 points. Olivia Hollenbeck and Sydney Golladay finished with seven and six points, respectively..
“All of the freshmen that have come in are really good,” Hobbs said. “They are learning every day, and that’s important for us to be successful and it is fun to see everybody out there at different times and in different lineups. Everybody is good at something different, or everybody is better at one thing or another. It’s fun to put those pieces together and see all of that fall into place.”
Throughout the game, the Tigers shot 53.3% from the field and 33.3% from beyond the 3-point arc. Meanwhile, the RiverHawks were 36.8% from the field and 33.3% from behind the arc.
FHSU hosts Rogers State at 2 p.m. Sunday at Gross Memorial Coliseum. The Hillcats lost 67-40 at Nebraska-Kearney on Friday night.