Bulldogs savor state experience despite loss
     2012-03-17      By Terry Gaston   
Photo by Jim Headley/for the Citizen
Gering senior Dillon Wademan (No. 32) flies up for a basket during a first-round game at Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln. The Bulldogs earned a playoff berth as a wild card but fell short with a score of 53-42.
 
Bulldogs savor state experience despite loss

It’s the goal of every high school student who is in activities, whether it be in speech, debate or athletics: Make state.

In the case of the Class B State Basketball Tournament, only eight teams out of 64 qualify for the trek to Lincoln and a chance to play for the state title.

The Gering Bulldogs, thanks to Nebraska’s wild-card power point system, joined Scottsbluff and six other boys’ teams at the state tournament last week and turned many heads toward the Panhandle’s success in upper-class basketball this season.

The fifth-seeded Bulldogs (17-7) were unable to get past their first-round opponent, No. 4 seed Omaha Gross Catholic, with a 53-42 setback, early Thursday morning at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.

But not all was lost in Lincoln for Gering, which indeed make state for the first time since 2006, the first in Randy Plummer’s six seasons as head coach.

“We were confident that if we got within a reasonable amount that we could tie it and get over the hump,” senior guard Zach Smith said after scoring 16 points, a familiar role for him in leading the Bulldogs’ offensive attack the past two seasons.

The Bulldogs’ primary objective against Gross was to shut down hot-shooting Cougar guard DylanTravis, and Smith credited fellow senior Danny O’Boyle for limiting Travis to just 12 points.

“Danny stepped up on defense and shutdown Travis,” Smith said. “You really can’t say enough about how we played.”

Save a third-quarter period in which Gering was held to just three free throws, while the Cougars built their 24-20 halftime lead to 36-23, the Bulldogs had their chances. After falling behind 18-8 early in the second quarter, Gering closed the halftime margin to four on two 3-pointers by senior guard Walker Britsch.

Jake McGuire led all scorers with 18 points and Zach Johnk added 10 behind Travis’ dozen for Gross (20-6), which finished the tournament with a fourth-place finish after losses to runner-up South Sioux City in the semifinals and Beatrice in the consolation final.

The only notable downer on the Bulldogs’ season as a whole might be that they were 17-4 before they lost their last three games: their regular-season and home finale against eventual district and state champion Scottsbluff; their district semifinal game against Sidney; and their state contest against Gross.

Not bad company to suffer losses to, considering Gering defeated Sidney twice in the regular season.

Then again, district runner-up Sidney, fellow district semifinalist McCook and many other teams across Nebraska would have loved to been in the Bulldogs’ shoes and play at the Devaney Center.

After spending several hours with a chance to absorb the loss and start to savor the experience by watching several other games at the Devaney Center, Smith spoke well of the day’s events.

“We were lucky enough to get a wild-card and we really weren’t that nervous playing in Devaney,” Smith said. “It was a blast to play there. When we walked into Devaney, all of us just took it in and we realized we made it to state.

“I’ve been there before but I’ve never been at court level. It was a lot different with the dynamics of the court and without having a solid background to shoot at.”

At least the Bulldogs got a shot. Fifty-six other Class B teams would have loved to been on the Devaney court for just one game. In the Bulldogs’ case, that chance will likely provide more long-lasting and positive memories than the setback of just one game.


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