Bulldogs ready to make a state-ment in Lincoln
     2012-03-09      By Terry Gaston   
Within a matter of three days last week, the Gering boys’ basketball team went from feeling downtrodden and maybe having its season ended in the district semifinals to getting a second chance of making the Class B state tournament.

And thus the Bulldogs, who maintained their No. 5 ranking in the Nebraska School Activities Association power points in spite of their semifinal loss to Sidney, gained the second and last available wild card berth into this week’s state tournament.

“It started off where we were pretty disappointed,” said Gering coach Randy Plummer of last week’s emotional rollercoaster, which started with a 64-50 loss to Sidney in the District B-6 semifinals at Grant.

“But after we qualified, it has been different all together, things have been really positive and we are trying to get ready for Omaha Gross.”

The Bulldogs, who enter state with a 17-6 record, will play the Gross Cougars (19-4) in first-round action Thursday morning at 9:45 a.m. Mountain Time in the Bob Devaney Sports Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

For Plummer, who is in his sixth season as Gering’s head coach, the trip to state is the first for him as the Bulldogs’ boss on the bench. However, in the 23 years prior to becoming head coach, Plummer was an assistant and helped the Bulldogs to state eight times — including a state runner-up finish in 1997, when Gering, then coached by now Activities Director Dave Pauli, finished second.

The Bulldogs are making their 27th trip to state, its first since 2006. Gross, on the other hand, is making just its fourth trip and first since 1999.

Gross nearly found itself on the outside looking in last week after being taken to overtime by upset-minded Gretna in the District B-2 championship game. The Cougars escaped with a 47-42 victory and now look to showcase standout senior guard Dylan Travis against Gering’s potent defensive attack.

“They are not very big, but that guard they have is among the best players in the state,” Plummer said of Travis, who scored 29 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Gretna and had 45 points in the Cougars’ 73-69 semifinal squeaker over Ralston.

“For a guard he is pretty big, but he doesn’t go into the post much. He penetrates and shoots or penetrates and kicks out the pass. He kind of does everything for them.”

After the Bulldogs ended the regular season with a 65-55 home loss to Scottsbluff and then fell to Sidney one game away from the district finals, Plummer said he felt he had not gotten Gering ready for those games.

“ I took a lot of responsibility for not having the team ready for those two games,” he said. “So it is pretty rewarding to make state. Our team’s goal at the beginning of the year was to make state, and it’s great to get reward for having a season and get in as a wild-card.

“So this is the final piece to the puzzle. I wasn’t sure after we lose to Scottsbluff and the against Sidney, we had one of our worst offensive performances of the year. So we’ve been trying to figure out how to get back in the groove.”

Plummer said he hopes the Bulldogs can regain the strong play that led them on a three-game sweep Feb. 9-11 in the East/West Shoot-Out, with Gering’s 60-41 win over North Platte being the team’s signature victory.

“It wasn’t that long ago when we were playing our best basketball. When we beat North Platte, that game was probably our best of the year, and we need to get back to that level this week.”

Senior guard Zach Smith entered the season as the Bulldogs’ go-to guy and he has left the numbers on the court for all 23 games in succeeding in fulfilling that role. Smith has scored 401 points (17.4 per game) and has a team-leading 62 assists (2.7 average) while senior center Dillon Wademan is averaging 7.2 points and 4.1 rebounds.

Senior forward Tyler Wallace has a team-leading 5.9-rebound average and 52 steals (2.3 average) along with 4.8 points per game. Senior guard Danny O’Boyle has averaged 6.6 points and 2.7 rebounds, while senior point guard Nate Marquez adds 4.2 points to his 50 steals (2.2 per game) and team-leading 49 assists (2.1 average). Senior Colton Keller adds 4.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per contest.

Plummer said he hopes the Bulldogs, especially the seniors, can end the season and prep careers on a high note at state.

“This senior bunch is a great athletic class,” he said. “They have been to state twice in Legion baseball, in football they qualified for the state playoffs and many of them have been to state track.

“They have a lot of belief in themselves, and it would be great to go down there and represent Gering well, play competitive basketball, do the best we can and leave it all out on the floor.”

With a win Thursday, Gering would advance to Friday’s 1 p.m. semifinal at the Devaney Sports Center against the winner of Thursday’s first-round game between No. 1 seed and defending state champion South Sioux City (15-4) and No. 8 surprise Crete (12-11), which upset then top-seeded Beatrice in their district final.

Win or lose Friday, the Bulldogs would play Saturday, either in the noon championship game at the Devaney Sports Center or in the third-place game at 9 a.m. at Lincoln Northeast High School.

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