STATE CHAMPIONS: Bearcats spell state title run T-E-A-M
     2012-03-17      By Terry Gaston   
Photo by Lisa Betz/Gering Citizen
Teamwork played an important role in the Bearcats’ success in Saturday’s championship game in Lincoln.
 
Basketball is a team game for a reason.

While most teams have a standout player, as did all three of the Scottsbluff Bearcats' opponents in last week's Class B State Boys' Basketball Tournament in Lincoln, the most successful of squads have multiple on-court weapons to step up when their star is being contained from his or her usual success.

In the case of the Bearcats, while senior forward Zach Clemens might have been most opponents' target, Scottsbluff earned its district title and subsequent state tournament berth with a solid corps of unselfish individuals.

And that team effort led to the Bearcats' winning their fourth state championship in boys' basketball, their first since 1955, concluding a dramatic run at state on Saturday with a 64-61 win over two-time defending Class B champion South Sioux City.

"That's kind been the story of our year, different people step up on different nights," Scottsbluff coach Tony Siske said of the Bearcats' balanced attack. "Zach's been kind of the focal point of our offense, but so many other guys can hurt people when they focus too much on Zach. The other guys step up and hurt them."

Scottsbluff (25-3) won its three games by a total of seven points and needed its best 43 seconds of the season in the semifinals Friday to turn in a performance of multi-faceted strength to overcome a four-point deficit against Beatrice and stun the Orangemen, 61-60.

And the Bearcats showed their team strength after falling behind Aurora early in the second quarter Thursday to hold off the Huskies for a 62-59 first-round victory. Let's start there.

Scottsbluff 62, Aurora 59

The Huskies' towering threat was David McDonald, but the Scottsbluff post players held him to seven points in the game at Pershing Center. By doing so, the Bearcats were able to execute inside and out, hitting four 3-pointers and 16 of 21 field goals.

While Aurora (16-7) took a brief lead early in the second quarter, Scottsbluff went on a 15-4 tear to lead by 10 before the Huskies close the halftime margin to within five.

After the teams battled evenly through the third quarter, which the Bearcats led 43-39 at period's end, Scottslbuff scored 11 unanswered points for its largest lead at 54-41. Aurora got only as close as two before junior Michael Hadden -- a late-season bloomer in sealing games at the free-throw line-- knocked down one shot with 19.9 seconds.

A missed 3-point shot by Jordan Hohwieler sealed the Huskies' fate. Three other Aurora players scored in double figures, led by 14 each from Trey Allen and Ben McQuiston while Cole Ashby added 12.

While Clemens was the Bearcats' leader with a game-high 20 points, Hadden and his 10--of-13 free-throw shooting added a healthy 18 points.

"They ran a trap, full-court defense that made it tough for us to get the ball inside," said Scottsbluff coach Tony Siske, who had the Bearcats at state for the third time in his five years at SHS. "When (Hadden) comes off the bench, you want him in there then to make plays and he made some big plays.

"But, you win and move on this time of year."

And for the first time since 2009, the Bearcats moved on and guaranteed themselves of two factors.

First, Scottsbluff would play the same Beatrice Orangemen it did in the '09 semifinals, and second, no matter the outcome, they would play for at least top-four medals, which the Bearcats of four years ago settled for after losing to Sidney in the third-place game, 52-42.

Scottsbluff 61, Beatrice 60

The Bearcats would not have even been in the title game had they not rallied against a perennially solid Beatrice team known for its ball control.

After trailing 34-30 at halftime and by as many as six with two minutes remaining at the Bob Devaney Sports Center, the Bearcats found themselves in a make-or-break situation against the Orangemen (21-2) -- whose only losses had been to top-seeded South Sioux City and to No. 8 Crete in a surprising district final outcome.

Beatrice remained ahead 60-56 with 43 seconds left, but Scottsbluff junior Eric Moreno ripped a 3-pointer with 32 seconds remaining.
Then, after an Orangemen timeout with 23 seconds left, came the Bearcats' defensive coup of the season in the form of a five-second in-bounds violation. Following senior guard Rich Williams' miss, Hadden found himself in position for the rebound and drew a foul.

"So many things had to go our way," Hadden said of the plays that led to his foul-drawing rebound. "We got the five-second call, then Rich put up a shot and I happened to turn and got the board. I got two more free throws, and I put my trust in the Lord to give me the ability to put them in.

"It was kind of a relief after the first one went in and it gave me confidence to make the second."

Clemens again led the Bearcats, with 23 points, while Moreno followed with 12 and Hadden and Williams added 11 apiece.
Beatrice still had one more chance to score, but the Bearcats' defense snuffed out any chance of a clean, open shot while the Orangemen passed the ball around. Finally, as the clocked ticked off its waning seconds, the ball popped loose and Moreno was able to pull it in to secure Scottsbluff's wild, miraculous victory.

"I thought we executed to step up and we did that," said senior center Isaiah Castellaw, who had just two points against Beatrice but controlled the inside to force the action outside, where Williams was waiting to pressure Orangemen sharp-shooter Trey Bardsley.

Bardsley led all scorers with 27 points and Blake Ruiz canned 17 points for Beatrice (22-3), which finished third in the tournament after beating Omaha Gross Catholic in the consolation final Saturday.
"Beatrice was a good, overall team and we didn't know what to expect," Castellaw said. "They showed us how to play state tournament basketball."

With Siske having avenged that 2009 semifinal loss to Beatrice, one more daunting task awaited the Bearcats: they would have to dethrone the two-time defending Class B champion in South Sioux City.

Scottsbluff 64, South Sioux City 61

Like they did against Beatrice, the Bearcats found themselves trailing by four at halftime, 24-20.

Then, as it has most of the season, Scottsbluff found its hot hand in the third quarter, with Moreno bagging three 3-pointers and Williams nailing two treys in an offensive onslaught that put the Bearcats ahead 45-30 late in the third quarter.

"Our kids have played with a lot of emotion and with feeling, and all year they come in bunches," Siske said in reference to the Bearcats' 5-for-6 assault from the 3-point stripe in the third quarter. "They forget about themselves and they want more."

Thanks to Moreno's 4-for-7 effort from 3-point territory and Williams' 3-for-9 success from beyond the arc, put itself into position of winning that first state championship in 57 years.

After trailing by 16 three times in the fourth quarter, however, the Cardinals (19-7) were not to be denied when they pounded their hearts of a champion.

Junior guard Matt Klein gave Scottsbluff its final points of the tournament and a 10-point lead with 21.4 seconds remaining before hot-shooting guard Mike Gesell made seven unanswered points to finish his afternoon with a game-high 30. But the clock expired on Gesell and the Cardinals' reign over Class B.

The Bearcats closed their championship run by hitting 11 of 18 free throws, led by Hadden's 7-for-10 effort that, combined with his 6-for-8 shooting, paced his 19-point outing.

Moreno was 5-for-10 for the game and added 14 points, while Clemens was 5-for-9 and finished his prep career with a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds.

As a team, the Bearcats were good on 23 of 44 shots (52.3 percent), including 7 of 19 treys (36.8 percent) and 11 of 18 free throws (61.1 percent).

"I knew we had to make free throws because I knew they were going to score every possession down the stretch," Siske said.

Scottsbluff held South Sioux City to 36.4 percent shooting (20-for-55), with just 4 of 19 treys falling (21.1 percent).

Upon the team's arrival back to Scottsbluff High School, where a rally that included the SHS pep band awaited the Bearcats, Siske summarized the team's unselfishness that led to the capturing of the Class B state championship: as a team.

"This shows how great of kids they are," Siske said, choking back a little as perhaps the entire scenario was finally sinking in.

"We had no problems, and they represented our whole school so well, not just as a basketball team, but how they handled themselves by the way they represented themselves at state and for our school says a lot about the individuals on our team."

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