Pond Creek-Hunter senior Rylie Halcomb struggled to find the explanation.
Normally a defensive star, Halcomb delivered offensively Saturday for the third-ranked Panthers in the Class A championship game.
And it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
She made three 3-pointers in the third quarter and then came up with the game-clinching rebound with 0.9 seconds remaining to lift Pond Creek-Hunter to its first state title with a 32-30 win against No. 7 Seiling at State Fair Arena.
“I’m not a big scorer, but tonight I was feeling the 3, I guess,” Halcomb said. “I just let it go. Coming out and being able to finish like that in my senior year is more than I can ask for.”
Halcomb had totaled 13 points the first two games of the tournament, but she equaled that Saturday with four treys and a free throw.
She also finished with three rebounds, but the biggest came on Seiling’s final shot from Kylie Templin that hit off the side of the rim. Halcomb was fouled on the rebound and missed the free throw, but that didn’t matter Seiling did not have time to get a shot off with 0.2 seconds on the clock.
“I told Riley she was going to be a huge key for us in playoff season and she had to step up,” Pond Creek-Hunter coach Tasha Diesselhorst said. “She knew that and every game she’s contributed. It’s perfect for her to go out with a game like this her senior year.”
Sophomore Tiarra Davis also delivered, making the game-winning free throws with 38.9 seconds remaining, helping the Panthers (28-1) avoid disaster from its delay game that shredded nearly the entire final quarter.
“I honestly knew they were going in,” said Davis, who finished with nine points. “Coach puts a lot of emphasis on how big free throws are. I just knew my teammates trust me and I just put them in.”
With Halcomb and Davis stepping up, that relieved pressure from senior Jade Jones, who struggled the entire game shooting. She finished with just eight points on 4 of 13 shooting, well below her average of nearly 26 points per game.
Jones, though, had a remedy to go alongside her teammates stepping up. She suggested the delay game in the second half with the Panthers leading 29-23 to start the fourth.
“Because I couldn’t get anything to fall, I said let’s just pull the ball out because I knew they would have to come get me,” Jones said. “Thank the Lord we came out with the win.”
While in the delay, Seiling (23-6) was able to tie the game with 1:04 remaining on Kylie Templin’s layup. Davis, though, delivered ahead of Halcomb down the stretch, sending the Panthers to their first gold ball after finishing as runner-up in 1992 and 1993.
“We knew that no one had us at the end of the bracket,” Davis said. “Everybody thought we were going to lose that first game and it feels great to prove everybody wrong.”