By ISAAC DEER
PERRY – In the 2022 Class 3A state tournament, the Silver Lake girls' basketball team left the arena feeling empty, sad and hungry for the gold.
A year later, Silver Lake is heading back to Hutchinson and will look to avenge its state tournament loss after a 46-26 3A sub-state championship victory over its deepest rival, Rossville.
With Silver Lake's win, the Eagles have won their sub-state bracket three times in a row. For the second straight year, the same starting lineup will try and win the Eagles' first state championship since 2016.
"This feeling never gets old," Silver Lake junior McKinley Kruger said. "For this being our third time in a row doing this, it still feels as great as the last two. There are a lot of great teams in 3A, and everyone is out to get us based on our success last year and this year. We need to keep staying together and playing as a team. We are unstoppable if we play at our best, and nobody can beat us."
Most of Silver Lake's roster has been playing on the same court together since they could learn how to shoot a basketball. A common bond of winning games on the court over many years has led to the Eagles having superb team chemistry.
"What works for us is that we have been playing together, all of us, since we were little," Silver Lake junior Makenzie McDaniel said. "We have also played against each other, too. So we know everything about each other. We have a bond of having each other's backs. This team is very positive, and it's a perfect environment to be in."
They needed each other's backs more than ever on Saturday night in Perry-Lecompton.
Despite comfortably beating Rossville the first two times this year, beating its rival for a third time would be tough.
"I think beating (Rossville) proved that we belong here," Silver Lake senior Taylor Ross said. "I think we proved our worth tonight. We can't look at teams and take them for granted. We can't look at a team and think we are going to roll them over. We have to perform at our best all the time. Anybody can win on any given night, so we have to be at our best at all times."
War on 24, Part 3, didn't go as Silver Lake wanted it to immediately. Silver Lake finished the opening quarter trailing by nine points and stared at a small one-point deficit going into halftime.
But the three-time defending sub-state champions were able to come back in the loudest way possible, winning a tension-filled rivalry game by 20 points.
"I don't think there's any question that we started out as bad as we could," Silver Lake coach Kyle Porter said. "That's a credit to Rossville. They wanted to take away our inside game. We fed into a lot of that in the first half.
"But I am just so proud of the resiliency, trust and toughness that our group has to get past that first quarter, play one possession at a time and getting it close at half. The second half was the Silver Lake team that I am used to watching. It was fun to see us play good basketball in the second half and win the game."
Silver Lake's veteran group has experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. The Eagles shared its lowest point in the first quarter.
Silver Lake dug themselves a hole with foul trouble immediately. Before the opening quarter ended, the Eagles were staring at six fouls. Rossville took advantage of Silver Lake's troubling start.
Rossville controlled the offensive tempo recognizing that the Eagles needed to tone down its aggressiveness. The Bulldawgs were playing a Silver Lake team without one of its biggest weapons in the paint in McDaniel, who accumulated two quick fouls.
Rossville freshman Rylee Dick had the hot hand for the Bulldawgs. Dick led the starting lineup in points with five. Sophomore Shyanne Haehn, who Rossville coach Michael Bell calls their sixth starter, provided five points off the bench.
Silver Lake was ice cold and struggled to find a rhythm against Rossville's defense in the opening quarter. The Eagles were zero of 10 from beyond the 3-point line, and Rossville held Silver Lake to zero points until the 2:56 mark.
Rossville took an enormous leap and rode a monstrous wave of momentum, ending the first quarter with a 13-4 lead.
The environment, situation and cold streak would change in favor of Silver Lake in the second quarter.
After going zero for ten in the opening quarter from 3, Silver Lake junior Kaibryn Kruger immediately provided a 3-point shot to open the second quarter. From that point on, the Eagles got their groove back.
"I think we started to wake up," Silver Lake junior Kaylee Deiter said. "We were able to relax and settle in finally. We felt rattled to start off. But, after some things happened and understanding what was going on, we got to play our game. We got it under control."
The Eagles defense was locked in, opening some opportunities for the offense to knock down shots.
After only scoring four points in the first quarter, Silver Lake outscored Rossville 11-3 in the second quarter.
Going into the halftime break, Rossville led 16-15. Silver Lake put itself in an extraordinary situation.
"We had a really competitive week at practice, and we knew if we were going to be down, we could find a way to get back," Silver Lake senior Mariah Farmer said. "We know each other's strengths, and all we needed to do was take a deep breath. The game slowed down; we became calm and realized that this was our game to go win."
Silver Lake got its first lead with an M. Kruger 3-pointer nine seconds into the third quarter. Once Silver Lake got that lead, they hardly let it go.
In the opening 3:06 of the third quarter, Silver Lake went on an 11-3 run before Rossville took a timeout. However, it didn't take very long after the 11-3 run for Silver Lake to go on a 6-0 run before Rossville was forced to take another timeout.
The shots weren't falling for Rossville, and nothing was going the Dawgs' way. Silver Lake slammed its foot on the gas pedal, pushing its double-digit lead.
To end the third quarter, Silver Lake's defense held Rossville to three points yet again, while the scorching hot Eagle offense put 21 points on the board.
"We just trusted each other; playing with one another and moving the ball carried us there," M. Kruger said. "In the first half, they wanted us to shoot quick shots, and they got us sped up. But we just worked better once we started playing at our pace."
Silver Lake would coast to victory in the fourth and final quarter. The Eagles displayed a defensive clinic and offensive dominance from the second to the last quarter.
The Eagles would leave Perry-Lecompton High School with a 46-26 victory and get on the bus back home with hardware in hand.
"The growth, in my time here, is huge," Farmer said. "Every one of us is in the gym, working. We have all grown as players. To go to state in my last year with these girls is the best thing I could've ever asked for."
The opponent for Silver Lake in the opening round of the Class 3A state tournament has yet to be determined, but the Eagles will play its first game at Hutchinson Community College on Wednesday.
"I'm so proud of our group," Porter said. "I could go on and on about each individual person that we have here. The thing that is special about us is the fact that it's not all about one person. It's about us and accomplishing something together that nobody can do individually. We are going to have a lot of confidence going into Hutch.
"This time, we want to finish the job."
SILVER LAKE GIRLS 46, ROSSVILLE 26.
Silver Lake 4 11 21 10 – 46
Rossville 13 3 3 7 – 26
Silver Lake (22-1) – Farmer 0-6 3-4 3, McDaniel 6-7 2-3 14, K. Kruger 3-10 1-2 8, M. Kruger 3-13 0-0 7, Ross 5-7 0-1 10, Hanni 1-2 0-0 2, Deiter 0-4 0-0 0, Wehrli 1-1 0-0 2. Totals – 19-54 6-10 46.
Rossville (16-7) – Perine 2-7 1-2 5, Mitchell 1-8 0-1 2, Porter 0-5 1-3 1, Dick 3-9 0-0 8, Spielman 2-8 1-2 5, Haehn 2-3 0-0 5. Totals – 10-40 3-8 26.
3-point goals – Silver Lake 2-21 (K. Kruger, M. Kruger), Rossville 3-6 (Dick 2, Haehn). Total fouls – Silver Lake 13, Rossville 15. Fouled out – none. Technical fouls – none. Turnovers – Silver Lake 11, Rossville 14.