GOWER, Mo. — Gallatin built for this opportunity during the last three years, determined to resurrect previous title-contending form.

In a 68-34 win against East Buchanan on Wednesday night, Gallatin’s starting five scored the first 52 points, displaying the lineup that has players and coaches believing now is the time to end a long postseason drought. Class 2 District 16’s top seed advanced back to the title game with hopes of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

In 2009, Gallatin lost at home in a district title game vs. rival Hamilton then lost in the first round of the postseason each of the next three seasons. The Bulldogs lost in overtime to Maysville — also in a home game — in last year’s championship, but they appear better equipped to finish the job this time around with a 23-4 record in tow.

“We worked really hard as a team to get this far, and we’re ready to play harder,” said Gallatin starting guard Kaitlyn Hefley, one of only two seniors on the roster. “We can always count on each other. That’s the good thing.”

East Buchanan (9-18) succeeded at times in taking Gallatin out of its preferred frenetic pace but committed 24 turnovers against relentless pressure. Gallatin forced 17 of those giveaways in the first half on the way to a 42-19 lead at the break, and the advantage grew to 52-21 late in the third quarter on a Hefley jumper in the lane.

Hefley, who finished with 14 points, scored one more basket early in the final frame, but Gallatin’s reserves accounted for 14 of the final 16 points with the running clock in effect for most of the final 8 minutes.

With only one senior on the roster (starter Lauren McDonald), East Buchanan heavily relied on freshman guard Josie Fortney to navigate defensive traps. East Buchanan’s best moments at holding possession and working for good shots came early in the first quarter, and the youthful lineup, playing without sophomore leading scorer Aaryn Hessenflow (broken hand) since early January, couldn’t sustain spates of positive play for very long.

Hessenflow played in a 55-41 nonconference loss to Gallatin on Jan. 7.

“We’ve got to be able to play better team defense,” East Buchanan coach Cori Elms said. “That’s been something we’ve tried to work on. When you are young, I think it takes a little time, and that’s definitely one of our emphases in the offseason, this summer, when we try to fix things.”

A pair of early 7-0 runs fueled Gallatin’s runaway.

The first of Hefley’s two 3-pointers keyed the first, giving Gallatin a 9-2 lead. East Buchanan pieced together five unanswered to close within two on guard Cheyenne Miller’s right corner triple.

Hefley immediately answered with another trey, this on from the left corner to start another run.

To complete the surge, Gallatin junior guard Sara Lin (14 points, team-high seven rebounds) converted a three-point play with a driving left-baseline layup and the ensuing free throw to extend East Buchanan’s deficit to 19-9 after one quarter. The lead didn’t dip back into single digits after that.

Lin scored nine more, and sophomore forward Bailey Maxwell added six of her 12 points during the second quarter, creating the insurmountable halftime edge.

“When they made a little run there, we would answer,” Gallatin coach Rick Lin said. “They do that, too. They’re capable of answering. We just did a good job of that tonight.”

Maxwell, who added four of her six rebounds on the offensive end, scored the first four points out of halftime, and junior forward Kylie Collins added her final basket in a 6-0 run to start the third quarter. She finished with eight points, and junior guard Kailey Salmon — the fifth starter — also tallied eight.

Fortney led East Buchanan, which reached the district semifinals for a second straight year with 10 points. Guard McKenna Holdsworth and forward Bridget Merrigan added nine apiece with four of East Buchanan’s five starters accounting for all of its production.

Merrigan added a game-high nine rebounds.

Maysville girls 69, South Harrison 61

The Wolverines set up a district championship rematch, reversing the result of a previous Grand River Conference matchup.

Behind a quartet of double-digit scorers, Maysville (16-11) made just enough free throws to fend off South Harrison in the nightcap of semifinals. The Wolverines, who lost 71-52 to South Harrison in late January’s league matchup, hit 21-of-40 attempts from the line in a physical matchup that featured 47 fouls.

Senior Kelsey Jennings (10 points), sophomore Hunter Purdun (14 points) and junior Carly Wagner all fouled out for second-seeded South Harrison (20-6).

Maysville sophomore Rachel Boucher scored seven of her team-high 20 in the fourth quarter, including a 3-for-4 showing on free throws. fellow sophomore Bailey Frasher also added seven points in the final 8 minutes on her way to 19 points but went just 1-for-6 from the line in the frame and 3-for-11 overall. The Wolverines were 11 of 22 on free throws in the fourth quarter.

Senior leading scorer Kaylee Smith tried to lead South Harrison back with eight of her team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter but couldn’t do enough for the Bulldogs, who trailed 46-41 after she went scoreless in the third quarter. The Wolverines outscored South Harrison in each quarter.

Mary Jane Kapp added 13 points and Kristin Strong 10 for Maysville, which reached the postseason for the third straight year last season and beat North Platte in sectionals for the first playoff win in school history.

Gallatin and Maysville met twice during the regular season, and Gallatin won both matchups. The championship game is scheduled for a 6 p.m. tipoff Saturday.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story said East Buchanan did not have a senior on the roster. Lauren McDonald was a starter and four-year contributor but was listed on the official district program as a sophomore. The News-Press apologizes for the error.

Ross Martin can be reached at ross.martin@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPSports.

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