Wayne State falls to host Fort Hays State

Richard Rhoden, Editor-In-Chief

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  • Jordan Spencer goes up for a layup against a Fort Hays defender.

  • Ashton Yossi handles the ball, scanning for a teammate in WSC’s loss to Fort Hays State.

  • Millie Niggeling drives towards the basket in WSC’s loss to Fort Hays State

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It signaled the end of an era, one that won’t soon be forgotten by Wayne State faithful.

Top-seeded Fort Hays used a hot second half to eliminate 4-seeded Wayne State 70-54 in the NCAA Central Region Semifinals in Hays, Kan. Wayne State fans travelled well, but they entered Tiger territory, and the Fort Hays crowed reminded the Wildcats where they were playing.

“I don’t think it impacted it in any way,” Head Coach Chris Kielsmeier said of the raucous crowd. “Our kids are so mentally tough and we just didn’t hit shots. It’s a first class place, tremendous environment and they have a great thing going here but I don’t think it impacted the game.”

It turned out to be the final game in the careers of seniors Jordan Spencer, Ashton Yossi and Millie Niggeling.

Yossi finished her career at Wayne State with 105 wins, first all-time, three NCAA Tournament appearances with an Elite Eight appearance.

“It’s been a really special experience, the whole community, fans, everyone has been really supportive of our team,” Yossi said. “No matter where we are at, there are a lot of people to support us and it’s been an incredible experience.”

Niggeling and Spencer both expressed gratitude and thankfulness about their opportunities at Wayne State.

“I’ve been blessed to be here,” Niggeling said. “I was lucky enough that coach [Kielsmeier] recruited me, and I’ve changed as a person and as a player. It’s been an amazing experience and I’ll never forget it.”

“I’m really thankful that I got the opportunity to come and play here and make a lot of memories with some great people,” Spencer said.

Kielsmeier commented that the senior trio was three class acts and how far they have come not only as basketball players, but people as well.

“I think these three have grown as much as people as any player I have coached,” Kielsmeier said. “You have to be willing to do that, you have to want to do that, and these three did.”

It was a slow first half for both teams as neither established much of an offense throughout the first 20 minutes of the game.

Neither team scored until the 16:31 mark when Fort Hays got onto the board with a bucket. Wayne State’s first basket came on the ensuing possession with a Yossi jumper.

Fort Hays established an eight-point lead at the 4:22 mark, but Wayne State fought its way back into it and took their first lead with 1:18 to go in the half.

At the end of the first half, Fort Hays led Wayne State 21-19. Almost half of the Wildcat offense came from Paige Ballinger, scoring 9 points in the first frame.

The Wildcats shot 30 percent from the field compared to the Tigers 31 percent. Neither team hit a three pointer in the first half.

Business picked up after the half, as Fort Hays came out hot to begin the second half, scoring the first 11 points of the frame to take a 32-19 advantage.

Yossi nailed a jumper to stop the bleeding and get the scoring started for the Wildcats in the second half.

Wayne State answered with a run of their own, getting the score narrowed to six at 35-29. They would get within six one more time at 40-34 with 11:43 to go, but that was as close as they would get as Fort Hays continued to make shots while the Wildcats watched many of theirs rim in and out. The Tigers led by as many as 20 before finishing the game with a 70-54 victory.

“They’ve been number one in the region all season and they showed it tonight,” Kielsmeier said. “We just didn’t hit enough shots tonight. We knew going into the game that we had to hit shots and make plays from the perimeter.

“There was a stretch in the second half where we missed some shots and they hit a string of threes where it really swung the momentum of the game. It was really difficult for us to fight back.”

Yossi led the Wildcats in her final game with 16 points while Ballinger also recorded 16 and Spencer racked up 12. Wayne State shot 33 percent from the field while only going 13 percent from behind the arc.

“The game will get you sometimes. Last night we hit tough shot after tough shot and found a way to win that way,” Kielsmeier said. “Tonight we were just off a little bit, we missed a lot of shots inside the paint we normally make and they just rimmed in and out. You have to give them credit, those shots were contested.”

The Wildcats finish the season with a 28-6 overall record. That doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye.

“I could coach these kids forever,” Kielsmeier said. “I don’t know if they have plans to get on with their life, but I’d sure like to keep coaching them for as long as they want to keep playing.”