Justin Ebert thought when he took over the Salina South girls basketball program that it could take some time for the Cougars to get their first win.
It came sooner than he expected Tuesday night against Buhler.
Behind a 14-point, six-rebound performance from junior Lauren Harris, the South girls helped Ebert collect his first career victory as a head coach, 60-50, over the Crusaders at the South gym.
"Our girls needed a win tonight," Ebert said. "To get our first win of the season and kind of get rolling the right direction was incredibly important for our girls. To get one early builds confidence as the season goes on."
South improved to 1-1, while Buhler dropped to 0-2.
Early on, the Cougars went to the post with Harris. Knowing they had a size disadvantage against the Crusaders, they still found a way to get to the basket.
Harris had eight of her 14 points in the first quarter, helping the Cougars to a 16-11 advantage.
"It was good to get our transition offense going because it was something that we try and focus on," Harris said. "It's something that I try to focus on like getting up and down the court. I think just getting a couple of shots has improved my confidence and got me ready to go."
Even though Harris stands at 5-foot-7, Ebert said he likes what Harris can do when the Cougars need a quick basket.
"Getting out into transition and really emphasizing running up and down the court and taking advantage of maybe not being as big and physical," Ebert said. "(For) somebody that can get up and down the court and get some easy buckets, she did a fantastic job of that."
After leading 28-22, South saw that lead evaporate as Buhler closed the half on a 10-2 run to take a 32-30 lead at intermission. The Crusaders held a 42-41 lead heading into the fourth when South seniors Kylie Arnold and Sydney Peterson made plays to help the Cougars regain a lead that they never relinquished.
Peterson also had 14 points and also grabbed eight rebounds while Arnold had 12 points.
"They definitely closed the game out well as a team," Ebert said. "In order to close the game in the fourth quarter, you need that senior leadership and that's what Kylie and Sydney were able to provide."
Buhler was led by Natayla Krafels' game-high 19 points.
Buhler's Jack Voth and Salina South's Te'Jon McDaniel provide battle in Crusaders' win over the Cougars
Jack Voth and Te'Jon McDaniel entered this season looking to be the main scorers for their respective teams.
And they were exactly that.
Voth and McDaniel matched up with each other in the post throughout the game, but Voth's execution and 27 points outmatched McDaniel's 20 in a 57-47 Buhler victory over South.
"We just came out and executed our game plan," Voth said. "They called my name at the end. "I was looking for them the whole game and they were looking for me. It fell our way at the end."
Buhler, the seventh-ranked team in Class 4A, improved to 2-0, while South fell to 1-1.
"This was a very physical game tonight, which I thought suited both teams," Buhler coach Ryan Swanson said. "Te'Jon is a great player. He's fun to watch, too.
"It was kind of fun watching those guys go back and forth. Jack led our younger guys the way a leader and a veteran should."
Despite trailing 13-9 after one and 23-20 at halftime, South managed to stay in the game with McDaniel only scoring five points.
McDaniel scored 12 of his 20 points in the third quarter when the Cougars needed it the most. Voth had 10 points in the first half and scored eight in the third period. That helped the Crusaders take a 41-37 advantage heading into the fourth.
Eventually, Voth and Grant Ricker made the plays and free throws the Crusaders needed down the stretch after South pulled within three with 4:47 to play.
Ricker added 16 points behind Voth's game-high performance.
"I thought late in the game, we could have handled pressure a lot better than we did, and we'll get better at it," Swanson said. "We made enough free throws. We made enough plays to finish it off against a very athletic, active long team."
McDaniel scored just three points in the final eight minutes.
"We need him to be aggressive in those situations and try to score, but he's got to trust his teammates," South coach Jason Hooper said. "We're going to learn from this one, but we're certainly looking forward to the next one."
South begins a four-game road swing, with its next three games before the Christmas break all away from home. The Cougars have another nonconference game at Goddard Eisenhower on Friday.
Buhler will return home to face Hutchinson on Friday.
Dylan Sherwood has been a sports reporter for the Salina Journal since August 2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DSherwoodSJ
This article originally appeared on Salina Journal: How Salina South girls coach Justin Ebert his first career victory against Buhler