LOVELAND – With a once-solid lead having disappeared, and the season in danger of ending one game early, Sedgwick County coach Scott Dille made a decision.

Burlington’s Kiyarra Williams had battered the Cougars inside during the third quarter of the Class 2A girls basketball state semifinals, scoring 14 points as Burlington opened up a five-point lead at Budweiser Events Center.

What reversed the momentum was listening to his staff. Dille switched to zone in the fourth quarter, and Sedgwick County made some big shots – and free throws – down the stretch to pull out a 50-48 victory over Burlington for a spot in the 2A title game Saturday night against Lower Platte League rival Merino.

“I’m a little hard-headed. I think man is the way that basketball should be played,” Dille said. “But my assistant finally told me I was an idiot and we needed to go play a little zone.

“We tried to put a little more traffic in the way. (Kiyarra’s) a great player, and I thought we did as good as we could trying to make it hard for her to get good looks.”

Williams had only one field goal in the fourth quarter. Sedgwick County sophomore Abigail Dille hit a pair of big 3-pointers to close the third and start the fourth, and even as the teams traded the lead back-and-forth, Sedgwick County (21-5) kept the faith.

Whitney Cure put Burlington (20-5) on top for the final time 46-45 with a 3-pointer. Allie Bernhardt hit a shot to put the Cougars back up 47-46, and after Dille hit a free throw, Jensen Renquist knocked down a pair of foul shots with 11.3 seconds left to help seal the victory.

“I thought our girls were composed down the stretch,” Dille said. “Obviously winning two state volleyball championships has helped these girls understand that in big moments you have to be mentally tough.”
Abigail Dille finished with 14 of her 21 points in the first half.

Merino, which won the Lower Platte League during the regular season, also won a state volleyball title last fall. Sedgwick County, which has won 13 of its last 14 games, took the Rams out in the semifinals of the district tournament on its way to winning the title and earning the No. 2 overall seed at state behind No. 1 Merino.

Scott Dille said he’s glad to be facing the Rams, adding they’ve had a great season. But he acknowledged that the Cougars’ momentum down the stretch has been huge.

“I think we started winning a couple of those big games against tough teams and our girls started to go ‘man, we really can do this stuff; Coach isn’t just lying to us all the time,’” Dille said. “I think every one of those little steps along the way has given them more and more confidence and more and more togetherness.

“This stretch has been really fun.”

(1) Merino 48, (12) Heritage Christian 36

What was a slight advantage for Merino going into the fourth quarter of Friday’s 2A state semifinal quickly turned into something more.

The No. 1 Rams kicked it into a higher gear in the fourth, outscoring Heritage Christian by 10 points on their way to a 48-36 victory over the 12th-seeded Eagles. The victory sends Merino into the state championship game for the first time since 2002.

“It’s kind of a blur right now, to be honest with you,” Rams coach Dan Piel said. “These girls are built for the fourth quarter. We talk about how we have to work hard to get where we want to get – I’m not saying there’s not teams that work as hard, but there’s nobody that works harder than these girls.”

Merino (23-3) draws Sedgwick County in the title game. It’s the third matchup this season for the two teams.
Makenna Sutter and Brooklyn Sutter combined to score 18 of their 25 points in the second half for Merino. Freshman Kya Piel added 13 points.

“The competitive side of us came out,” Makenna Sutter said of the second-half surge. “The situation we were in, it was easy for us to connect and find each other.”

Heritage Christian (19-6), which finished third in its league before storming into the Final 4, led 20-19 at halftime after a last-second bucket from senior Avery Hughes, who had a team-high 13 points. A 3-pointer from Natalie Samuelson late in the third quarter made it a two-point deficit for the Eagles at 27-25, but Merino slowly pulled away from there.

“A lot of teams would like to be playing (Saturday) night,” Piel said. “We get the opportunity and we’re excited for it and we’re proud of the work we put in to get here.”

Merino last made the title game in 2002, winning the 1A crown.

“We’ve experienced it in volleyball,” Makenna Sutter said. “We’re just excited to experience it in basketball and go compete for one last time with each other.”