Bearcats return to state with experience on their side
     2012-03-09      By Terry Gaston   
After a junior and sophomore-dominated Scottsbluff boys’ basketball team made the Class B state tournament last year, much became expected of this year’s Bearcat team.

And with a 22-3 overall record, with the chance at avenging two of those losses successful in their winning their second straight District B-6 championship, the opportunity to return to state and build on last year’s first-round loss is one Scottsbluff coach Tony Siske and the Bearcats sought and thus cherish.

“I think that we have more confidence this year,” said Siske, whose team last year lost to eventual third-place finisher Lincoln Pius X 67-43 in the first round. “And we are a year older and stronger and that makes a difference.”

The Bearcats, after taking an underdog’s role to state last season, are the No. 3 seed in the school’s 35th appearance in the state tournament.

Their bid to become the school’s fourth state champion, and first since 1955, begins Thursday night at 7:45 Mountain Time against No. 6 seed Aurora (16-6) at Lincoln’s Pershing Auditorium.

“Aurora has a big kid in the middle who is surrounded by a bunch of athletes,” Siske said. “They are strong, you can tell they are mostly football players. They’re a big, strong, physical team.”

With a win Thursday, Scottsbluff would move to the Bob Devaney Sports Center on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus for a 2:45 p.m. semifinal game. The Bearcats would play the winner of Thursday’s opening-round contest between No. 2 seed Beatrice (20-2) — a surprise loser in its district final to Crete — and No. 7 Lincoln Pius X (14-7).

Win or lose Friday, the Bearcats 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.

Siske said winning the district title this year, the Bearcats’ third in his five seasons as head coach, as opposed to last year’s championship was similar yet different.

“They’re all exciting, but it was a little different this year because we had such a wide margin,” Siske said of the championship game, in which the Bearcats exploded for a 52-34 triumph over Sidney. “But none is more exciting than the other.”

Several Scottsbluff players, however, expressed after the district title game that this year’s B-6 championship was more gratifying, especially with the team’s expectations. Also, in late January, the Bearcats had earned a No. 1 state ranking in the power point ratings and for one week from the Omaha World-Herald.

Forward Zach Clemens garnered All-State Class B honors as a junior and has been the Bearcats’ primary weapon again as a senior, although on many occasions Clemens’ teammates have improved their supporting roles to take the pressure of their 6-foot-5 leader.

As a result, while Clemens leads the Bearcats with 379 points (15.2 per game average), total rebounds with 166 (6.6 average)and is second in blocked shots with 28 and third in steals with 31.

Scottsbluff has two other players who have averaged double digits in scoring, with senior guard Rich Williams averaging 13.9 points thanks to 68 successful 3-point shots (37.8 percent), and junior forward Eric Moreno, another sharpshooter with 58 3-pointers (on 118 attempts, for 49.2 percent) along with 5.7 rebounds per game.

Moreno edges senior center Isaiah Castellaw for second in rebounding by just three boards. Castellaw, the Bearcats’ 6-7 inside force, averages 5.6 rebounds along with 8.6 points and has 56 blocked shots.

Junior guard Matt Klein is averaging just under 7.0 points per game with a team-leading 85 assists (3.4 average) and 2.3 steals per game. Junior guard Michael Hadden, who had 17 points in the district title game, usually comes off the bench and has averaged 6.8 points and 3.8 rebounds.

With nine days between the Bearcats’ district championship victory and their first-round match-up at state, Siske said last week was devoted to staying on focus while Monday the team began preparing for Aurora.

“We took Wednesday off, had a shoot-around Thursday, on Friday just did some reviews and some running, getting up and down the court to try not to get any rust,” Siske said.

The atmosphere in getting prepared for what the Scottsbluff seniors know will be their last week in wearing Bearcats basketball uniforms makes state preparation unique as well, Siske added.

“It is just a different feeling in getting prepared for state,” he said. “You work hard throughout the season to get ready for each game, but no matter what the season ends this weekend.”

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