The opening eight minutes were near dream basketball for coach Brett Flory and company.
Derby had built a 21-7 lead over AVCTL-I rival Salina Central. However, its league foe didn’t remain on its heels. Three leads of 10 or more points were brought down to two-possession games, but a pair of 3s from Isaac Ray kept its opponent at bay.
The junior led three Derby players in double figures in its 74-63 win over Salina Central.
“We labored a bit and that’s the kind of game Salina Central is good at,” Flory said. “It’s a slugfest, but I know at this time last year, if we had one a game by double digits, we’d be jumping around going crazy. So we can’t be too upset.”
Derby took Salina Central’s first punch to the chest, just a 34-28 lead, and turned into a nine unanswered going into the third quarter. Outnumbering its league foe in players used, Flory’s squad overmatched it when it was able to utilize its full and half-court sets.
That lead grew to 51-35 with 3:21 remaining in the period, but it again had to fend off a run.
Senior Jacob Karsak pushed an early fourth-quarter lead of six points back to double digits with a corner 3.
There was one final Mustang wave to withstand.
Mustangs’ leading scorer Reed McHenry, who scored 20 points, converted a pair of free throws to make it 60-56 Panthers with 3:46 remaining. Ray hit a 3 on each of Derby’s next two possessions.
“When you get to situations like that, those are the moments that can happen in March,” Flory said. “… that spot is a time that Isaac and the rest of the team can build upon and learn from. In a battle late and you have to make a play, we know we can make a play.”
SALINA C: 7 21 19 16— 63
DERBY: 21 19 13 21— 74
MUSTANGS: McHenry 20, Puckett 9, Burnett 9, Moore 6, Losey 6, Tedlock 5, Watson 4, Speer 4.
PANTHERS: Ray 16, Bonner 13, Karsak 12, L. Clemons 8, Washington 6, Barger 5, J. Clemons 5, Chadwick 5, Araujo 4.