Mitchell girls turn tables on Kimball, win WTC title - Tigers ride birthday girl Newens' 24 points to championship game victory
     2013-02-07      By Terry Gaston    sports@geringcitizen.com
Photo by Sheila Weber/for the Citizen
The 2013 Western Trails Conference champions, Mitchell’s Lady Tigers are, from left, Dave Rada, Marthy Gillen, Madi Kushausen, McKenna Zullkoski, Barbara Pieper, Schila Strain, Aspen Reifschneider, Mikaela Karpen, Arrisa Gabel, Brock Ehler, Felina Blanco, Taylor Peters, Kady Lower; front row, Havannah Newens, Chalsey Grentz, and Brianne Hessler.
 
Havannah Newens will never forget her 18th birthday.
The Mitchell senior, who was among the Tiger basketball players whose eyes welled up last year after losing to Kimball in the championship game of the Western Trails Conference Tournament, was crying tears of joy Saturday night and clenching to the traveling trophy that hasn’t been in Mitchell in 11 years.

Newens scored 24 points, many coming on transition plays after the Tigers denied top-seeded Kimball, and sophomore Kady Lower pounded the Longhorns inside on her way to adding 16 points in pacing Mitchell to a 59-47 championship game victory at Western Nebraska Community College’s Cougar Palace.

“We played great team defense and that’s our goal every game, and that’s what we did,“ said Newens, who scored 11 points in a fourth quarter that saw the Tigers (12-7) expand a 38-35, third-quarter lead with a 21-12 run to finish the game and close out Kimball (12-3).

“Kimball’s a really good team, and so being able to come out and prove we can play with those better teams. It’s a really great team win. We all stepped up, so I just want to give a shout-out to my team.”

The Longhorns grabbed an early 7-2 lead, but after senior guard Darbi Klinkhammer picked up her second foul, Mitchell grabbed a 10-9 lead on Newens’ tip-in off an in-bounds pass. Kimball slipped back into the lead with two baskets by sophomore Jessica Hanks and held a 13-12 lead after one period.

The Longhorns extended that lead to 23-17 but Mitchell got baskets from three different players to tie the game at 24 before Hanks made one free throw in giving the Longhorns the halftime lead, 25-24.

Newens dished out assists on consecutive baskets in helping the Tigers take a 33-31 lead late in the third quarter, and her 3-pointer with 1:34 left in the period gave Mitchell a 36-33 lead and the upper hand the rest of the game.

After the Tigers built a 50-40 lead, Kimball could whittle the margin back only as close as six before Newens scored Mitchell’s last nine points. Senior classmate Chalsey Grentz locked down on defense and had six of her eight points in the final quarter.
“We came in extremely focused and everyone stepped up,” a red-faced, tear-stained Newens said. “It was a good team game.
“Last year we were seeded lower, so being able to win and get to the championship game was huge. We were just excited to be there, so losing was really tough. Here we came in and we were really confident and we were prepared. It was just a good win.”

Mitchell has not just turned the tables in the WTC championship game result in one year, but even this season — their first under Brock Ehler — the Tigers have overcome starts of 0-2 and 4-6 largely against higher-class competition, to win eight of their last nine games and avenge that 62-56 loss to Kimball from Jan. 22.
“We’ve come leaps and bounds,” Newens said.

“We have girls coming in every Sunday when the gym is open and shooting, girls putting in extra work after practice, everyone’s there and working hard. We do what we have to do, we run the sprints.”

The WTC tourney title was Mitchell’s eighth but the Tigers’ first since 2002. Mitchell opened the tournament as the No. 2 seed and rolled past Morrill 62-29 in the first round Thursday before moving to Cougar Palace and routing Bridgeport 60-41 in the semifinals.
“It’s just so important for all of us,” Newens said of the Tigers’ weekend successes.

“The coaches put in so much time and we put in so much effort. We feel like we’ve improved so much throughout the season and it’s just been a lot of hard work. We’re trying to build a good tradition in Mitchell, and we finally got it done.”

The Tigers still had a home game Tuesday against Kimball, a trip Friday at Ogallala (6-11) and their regular-season finale Saturday at home against Sidney (14-5).

“I just knew what the girls had to offer, but they needed to learn what they were good at, what their successes were and play the percentages to what those things were,” Ehler said.” It’s like a puzzle, you put everything together, then you manage your pieces and you place them out there and see what they can do.”

Ehler said the team had two primary goals: make the WTC tournament final again and clinching a winning record. Saturday’s victory achieved both, and now they can look to finish strong and perhaps take on a challenging field in Sub-District C2-12 next week, with state No. 1 Chadron and Kimball in the field.

“Everything else we have, it’s just playing hard and continuing to keep those puzzles working and continuing to get those girls to do what they’re good at so they can be successful now and on through their lives. It’s just lifetime skills.”

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