Bearcat girls hold on to end Lions' unbeaten run
     2011-02-03      By Terry Gaston   
A nearly full Lions' Den of Scotts Bluff County girls' basketball fans spent much of last Tuesday night in Morrill wondering how decisively Scottsbluff was going to end the host Lions' unbeaten record after the visiting Bearcats built a 26-point third-quarter lead.

Instead, the Class C-2 Lions turned the tables on Class B Scottsbluff, converting on forced Bearcat errors and igniting a strong Morrill faithful to pull within six points of the Bearcats twice in the final 1:19.

But the Lions ran into missed last-ditch opportunities of their own in the waning moments, and Scottsbluff returned back down Highway 26 with a hard-fought 59-51 victory.

“Down the stretch we made more than a couple poor choices,” said Scottsbluff coach Mike Burda, whose team (13-3) knocked off its second unbeaten opponent in two weeks. “We preached to come out and attack, and we tightened up and they got on a run.

“But give Morrill credit. We worked hard on executing against their zone defense. We're very happy to come out with a win.”
Morrill entered the game with a 13-0 record and had Scottsbluff down 8-4 in the opening 5½ minutes and 10-7 before the Bearcats ended the first quarter and began the second with nine unanswered points.

Senior Abby Zach's second 3-pointer 11 seconds into the second quarter gave Scottsbluff the 16-10 lead..
Senior Makayla Westphal then scored all 11 of her first-half points in the final 5:21 of the half, including nine in a 13-1 Bearcat run that gave Scottsbluff a 35-16 advantage late in the second period.
Scottsbluff rode its 24-9 second-quarter flurry to a 37-19 halftime lead, and then the Bearcats used an 11-2 run to build what was a commanding 49-23 advantage halfway through the third period.

Instead of hanging their heads and conceding their unbeaten record in lopsided fashion, the Lions attacked Scottsbluff defensively to begin forcing Bearcat turnovers, and over the next eight minutes Morrill had shrunk the deficit to 10 at 51-41.

“Our hats are off to the Morrill people for showing up and supporting us,” Lions coach Scott Axt said. “The crowd willed them on and we started playing harder. We moved our defense up and that kind of rattled (Scottsbluff).”

Senior Jessica Aratani's driving layup with 1:19 left pulled the Lions to within two possessions at 54-48. Westphal converted a three-point play 15 seconds later to give Scottsbluff a nine-point lead, and the Bearcats held Morrill scoreless on its next two possessions.

“We kept chipping away,” Axt said. “We had a couple of players who were still settling in, but we found the combination of five that worked. We had a few things that didn't go our way, and it might have been a different outcome.”

Aratani finished her game-high 20-point night with a 3-pointer with nine seconds left, but a pair of free throws by Scottsbluff senior Hattie Guzman, who was 6-for-8 at the line, locked up the Bearcats' hard-fought win.

Westphal led a 17-for-19 Scottsbluff attack at the free-throw line (89.5 percent) by hitting all five of her charity shots. She also hit both her 3-pointers on her way to a team-high 17 points.
Zach ripped three treys on her way to 15 points and leading the Bearcats' 6-for-11 night from 3-point range. She also had team-highs of six steals and three assists.

Guzman followed with 13 points and senior Marcie Sindt added eight. Sindt and Westphal had six rebounds apiece.

Scottsbluff has been a perfect-season spoiler of late. In beating then 13-0 Cheyenne Central on Jan. 14, the Bearcats also had to avoid blowing a double-digit lead and held off the Indians for a 46-44 win.

“We play a tough schedule and I think that pays off,” said Burda, whose team remained unbeaten for 2011 with its seventh straight win. “We've been pushed a lot this year and we are fortunate to come out on top.”

Zach has averaged 13 points through four games for the Bearcats after the Gering transfer sat out the first semester. Guzman is Scottsbluff's season-long scoring leader with 202 points (12.6 average) and Westphal is at 12 per game.
Westphal also leads the team in rebounds with 110 (6.9 average and with 26 steals (1.9 per game, shile Zach has 11 steals (2.75 average) in her four games. Sindt has a team-high 29 assists (1.8 per game).

The Bearcats traveled back up Highway 26 on Tuesday to face Torrington, and then they go to Alliance on Friday and to Sidney on Saturday.

Morrill got back on the winning track Friday with a 52-30 win over Crawford and improved to 15-1 after beating Banner County 60-31 on Saturday.




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