In a game they needed to win, and were in position to win, it all started to unravel for the Cloud County Thunderbirds about eight minutes into the second half, and there was nothing they could do to hold it together.
Tied for fourth place in the Jayhawk Conference Western Divison with Butler County, the T-Birds were even with the Grizzlies, 34-34, with just under 12 minutes to play in the critical matchup Wednesday afternoon in Bryant Gymnasium.
Butler County would outscore Cloud County 34-9 over the final 11:52 to pull away to a 70-43 victory that put the T-Birds in a precarious position.
“I think it was as close to a total meltdown as we have had in all of my years,” Cloud County coach Brett Erkenbrack said, “The last 10 minutes or more, we didn’t have anybody who could do anything at either end of the floor, so the result is not going to be any good.”
Butler County, 22-6 overall, takes sole possession of second place in the Jayhawk West at 10-4.
Cloud County, 19-9 overall, falls to 9-5 in the conference with two games remaining.
The T-Birds play at confernce leading Hutchinson on Saturday night, and then host Barton County next Wednesday.
The top four teams in the West host first-round games in the Region 6 Tournarment, while the next four are on the road.
“If we were to win the next two we still may end up being fifth,” Erkenbrack said, “There aren’t many scenerios in which we can finish higher than fifth so that means we would go on the road for the first round. If we would get past that then we go on the road for the second round. It makes life really difficult. We have done it to ourselves.”
Cloud County has lost three of its last four games.
“ We could not afford to lose more than one of the three games we have lost in the last 10 days. We didn’t need to win them all. We didn’t need to win them all to finish second, but we couldn’t lose them all,” Erkenbrack said, “What we have to do now is figure out how to win another game.”
A skaky first half, in which they turned it over 15 times, left the T-Birds trailing Butler County 24-20.
A steal and a layup by Aleesha Coulter and a free throw by Kamika Mason got the T-Birds within one, 24-23, early in the second half.
Ashlee Ivory scored on a drive to put the Grizzlies up 26-23.
Five straight points by Megan Stagner gave Cloud County a 28-26 advantage.
Consecutive baskets by Katie Andersen put Butler County back on top, 30-28.
The two teams combined for 10 points in under three minutes, and Jordyn Alexander scored inside to pull Cloud County even at 34-34.
Samantha Satterlee buried back-to-back threes, and the Grizzlies led 40-34.
Paige Champlin scored for the T-Birds, but Butler County answered with two free throws by Carley Bettencourt and another three by Saterlee to make it 45-36.
Kamika Mason drove to the basket and scored, the Cloud County trailed 45-38 with 9:42 to play.
It was all Butler County after that.
The Grizzlies poured in 10 points in 2:47 to go up 55-38.
Cloud County scored just four points the final 6:13.
“We are in a state of mind that is not condusive to being successful. We will regroup and try it again Saturday at Hutch. No excuses,” Erkenbrack said.
Alexander, who was four of four from the field and four of four from the free throw line, scored 12 points for Cloud County.
Coulter and Mason had seven points each.
Saterlee led Butler County with 14 points.
Andersen scored 13 points, Ivy had 11 and Bettencourt added 10.
Butler County got out to a 12-5 lead in the game.
Cloud County used a 14-6 run to go up 19-18.
The Grizzlies outscored the T-Birds 6-2 over the fiinal 1:31 to take a 24-20 lead.
Cloud County fought back early in the second half, but couldn’t sustain the momentum.