BEARCATS SILVER IN STATE TOURNAMENT - South Sioux City rallies to edge Scottsbluff in heart-felt title game of comeback teams
     2013-03-14      By Terry Gaston    sports@geringcitizen.com
Photo by Lisa Betz/Gering Citizen - Scottsbluff senior Michael Hadden holds up the Class B State Tournament second place trophy on Saturday night at Lincoln's Bob Devaney Stadium. The championship battle was a fierce one, with the victor determined by a 2-point basket in the last few seconds of the game.  
They were undersized in height against their opponents, but not in heart. And it was that heart of a defending champion that, after two comeback victories in the Class B Boys’ State Basketball Tournament, earned the Scottsbluff Bearcats a second straight shot in the tournament’s championship game Saturday night at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln.

And while the Bearcats had to rally from an 11-point, second-quarter deficit to defeat upset-minded Aurora on Thursday night and then erase a tight, first-half deficit to overtake Gretna in the semifinals Friday night, Scottsbluff found itself with the early upper hand Saturday against South Sioux City.

The Cardinals, who were the 2010 and 2011 Class B champions before the Bearcats dethroned them in last year’s championship game, may have entered postseason play with an 11-12 record.

But, never underestimate that heart of a champion either – even one that lost its crown for a year and played a strong schedule that still earned South Sioux City the No. 1 seed in District B-3 and ultimately saw the Cardinals win their fourth straight district title.

South Sioux City, seeded No. 7 for the state tourney, had overcome deficits of 11 against No. 2 seed Ralston and 18 against No. 3 Elkhorn South to make the championship game for a fourth straight year.

Trailing Scottsbluff by 11 with six minutes left in the first half Saturday night did not faze the Cardinals, who led once early in the game but not again until the final 40 seconds, enough to convert on a lay-up with three seconds left to take the 55-53 win and the state title back to the northeast edge of the state.

For Scottsbluff, the loss may have denied the Bearcats a second consecutive state title, but the Bearcats (23-6) still won more games than any team in Class B.

And they returned home Monday – after a day’s delay because of a blizzard that left much of eastern Nebraska in a standstill – with Scottsbluff’s seventh tournament finalist trophy, its third runner-up finish to go with its four championships.

Not bad for a team that was billed all season long as being undersized and seemed to have met its match when Aurora went on several big early runs to build an 18-point lead and have the top-seeded Bearcats facing a frustrating first-round loss.

“Just the way they competed and battled and found ways to win games,” sixth-year Scottsbluff coach Tony Siske said of his most proud quality of the 2012-13 Bearcats.

“We could have been done Thursday, but they found a way to win that game. Friday was a very difficult game against Gretna, and they found a way to win that game. It took an outstanding effort by South Sioux City to beat us. We didn’t give the game away, South Sioux City earned it.”

And both Scottsbluff and South Sioux City can attest that indeed, the game is not over until it is over.

Scottsbluff 59, Aurora 56
In Thursday’s first-round game, a rematch of the opening-round contest last year – also won by Scottsbluff by three points – the eighth-seeded Huskies had control of the defending champion Bearcats for the first 28 minutes, leading 30-12 late in the second quarter and having Scottsbluff on the ropes.

“We were getting our butts kicked on the boards, and that was my biggest concern playing those guys coming in was offensive rebounds,” Siske said on Hometown Family Radio.

“We gave up 11 of them in the first half and four in the second half, and that gave us the opportunity to get back in it.”
And Scottsbluff slowly began chipping away at that deficit after finally getting clicking on offense – much of which Siske attributed to the Bearcats’ finally getting busy on denying Aurora second-chance possessions with rebounds. And Scottsbluff curtailed its deficit to 30-18 by halftime.

“The tempo favored them big time in the first half, and we thought we needed to speed it up,” Siske said. “And a lot of it I thought was just going out and playing harder.

“I thought offensively we were very stagnant, stood around, didn’t cut hard, didn’t screen hard, and then we were absolutely getting destroyed on the offensive glass. We had to rebound to have a chance.”

After Aurora charged out to a 33-20 lead early in the third quarter, Scottsbluff began to turn the tide and ended the period with two baskets that cut the Huskies’ advantage to a workable, seven-point deficit at 38-31.

“When you’re into the game and in your focus, your percentage goes up, and in the first half we weren’t. We were standing around and were easy to guard.”

Senior guard Eric Moreno, who had five 3-points on his way to scoring 17 points, his a trey off the fourth quarter’s starting possession in cutting Aurora’s lead to four. But the Huskies went on a 6-2 run to rebuild an eight-point lead, one they still held at 50-42 with four minutes left.

But then came senior guard Michael Hadden, who had already scored six points in the quarter. Hadden converted a three-point play, then sophomore guard Jackson Hinze ripped a 3-pointer and Moreno – after a steal by senior Matthew Klein – added another trey in giving the Bearcats a 51-50 lead – all in a minute’s work.

After two free throws by Aurora senior Ben McQuiston gave the Dragons a 52-51 lead with 2:45 remaining, Klein made a steal and drove his way to the basket for Scottsbluff’s 53-52 lead with two minutes left to play.

And then Hadden grabbed Aurora’s next missed shot and fed Klein, who then passed back to Hadden for a layup and a 55-52 lead with 1:25 left. And then Klein got another steal that led to the Bearcats’ 57-52 lead with 50 seconds remaining.

Aurora got as close as 57-56 before Moreno hit two free throws with 7.2 seconds left and a 59-56 Bearcat lead, and McQuiston’s desperation 3-pointer missed the mark – as did a game-tying try for Huskies last year against the Bearcats – ending the game with Scottsbluff clinging to a three-point win.

Hadden finished with 22 points, with 15 coming in the second half. Hadden also shared team-high honors in rebounds with Hinze and Klein with four boards apiece. Hadden also made four assists and Klein had six steals.

“He’s done it all year for us,” Siske said of Hadden. “When we’ve needed it, he has come up with big shots and the big plays and did it one more time.”

McQuiston led the Huskies (14-10) with 17 points and 10 rebounds,
with senior Alex Hunt adding 12 points and 11 rebounds, leading Aurora’s dominant 39-19 charge on the boards.

Scottsbluff 55, Gretna 51
Gretna emerged from the District B-2 tournament as a Cinderella after the Dragons knocked off No. 1 seed Elkhorn South in the district semifinals and No. 2 Ralston in the final. And then Gretna, seeded fifth for the state tourney, topped state No. 4 Waverly 48-33 in Thursday’s first round.

Three-point plays, both in single shots in the first half and then traditional basket, foul and free-throw conversions in the second half were key in the Bearcats’ conversion on offense. Most of the regular three-point plays came as a result of Scottsbluff’s defensive execution.

“I thought we played defensively, I thought we were much more aggressive on offense, and those were the two big things,” Siske said Saturday morning.

Hinze provided the Bearcats’ early fuel with three 3-pointers and junior Tyler Mickey added two treys, but the Dragons held a 24-23 halftime lead.

“Gretna gave a lot of focus to Eric and really tried to take him away by guarding him, and we knew that would free up other guys and our kids did a great job of stepping up and making big shots,” Siske said, adding that being down by just one – compared with their 12-point halftime deficit Thursday night – gave the Bearcats an extra boost.

“The last words when we left the locker room, we said, ‘We’re in a lot better shape than we were (Thursday) night, just go finish like we did (Thursday) night,’” he said.

Moreno and Hadden scored Scottsbluff’s first six points of the second half on hoop-and-harm three-point plays, although Gretna then scored five straight to forge a tie at 29-all.

But after Moreno knocked down a 3-point shot, Hinze drew a foul on a driving layup and spin move layup, drew the foul and made the free throw for another six-point lead for Scottsbluff at 35-29.
“He’s making huge plays for us.” Siske said of Hinze, who finished with 12 points.

After the Bearcats had converted four three-point plays in the second half, Hadden drew a foul on a basket with six minutes remaining but missed the ensuing free throw. Down 44-38, Gretna charged back with a pair of 3-pointers by senior Nathan Skrdla, tying the game with 5:05 left.

Moreno answered with another trey-ball with 4:48 remaining and senior Taylor Winkler added a free throw with 3:56 left for a four-point lead at 48-44.

“After they tied it, we executed an out-of-bounds play and got Eric a great look,” Siske said.
The Bearcats built a 55-49 advantage after hitting 7 of 10 free throws in the final two minutes and made a late Dragon basket a moot point.

“We made the free throws when we needed to and kept our lead comfortable, and we forced them to score 3s and we were fortunate they didn’t go, and we moved on,” Siske said.

Hadden – who had just four first-half points – again ignited Scottsbluff’s second-half offense with 14 points for a team-high 18 on the night. After Hinze’s dozen points, Moreno added nine points, seven after halftime. Hadden and Klein had five rebounds apiece and Klein made five assists and five steals.

Gretna senior Mitchell Drey, a 6-foot-5, long-armed threat, finished with 18 points to share game-high scoring honors with Hadden. Senior Jordan Badenhorst followed with 15 for the Dragons, and Skrdla added 10.

“He scored some points and we were doubling on him,” Siske said of Drey, who also had team highs of 10 rebounds and five assists, “and he did a good job of kicking it out and that’s where they got some of their 3s.”

Gretna (19-8) finished the state tournament with a 66-56 victory Saturday in the third-place game over Elkhorn South (19-7). Drey scored 15 points, leading three Dragons in double figures.

South Sioux City 55, Scottsbluff 53
And thus the past two Class B champion schools came together again at the Devaney Center, meeting for the state title 52 weeks to the day after the Bearcats downed South Sioux City 64-61 for Scottsbluff’s fourth boys’ basketball state championship and first since 1955.

The Cardinals, who had won their fourth straight district title, had overcome their No. 7 seed at state to first knock off No. 2 seed Ralston 55-47 on Thursday and then needing overtime Friday to down No. 3 seed Elkhorn South 84-76 by overcoming double-digit deficits.

With an 8-0 run that overlapped into the second quarter, beginning with a 3-pointer by Moreno and ending with a trey by Klein, Scottsbluff grabbed a 19-9 lead, and a minute later, Moreno canned another 3-ball that put the Bearcats ahead 22-11 with 6:05 left in the first half.

“South Sioux had some big comebacks in the first two games, so it was never a situation where we felt comfortable,” Siske said of Scottsbluff’s early margin.

Two more 3-balls, including a long, off balance trey by Moreno at the second-quarter horn, gave Scottsbluff a 28-18 halftime lead.
“We knew they were going to press and we needed to take care of the ball,” Siske said Monday, shortly before the team's long-awaited departure from Lincoln. "I think we got more against their press than they got out of it.”

South Sioux City watched Moreno hit his 99th 3-pointer of the season in giving the Bearcats a 35-25 advantage, but the Cardinals began chipping away at their deficit, never trailed by double digits again and had cut Scottsbluff’s lead to 41-35 by third-quarter’s end.

Cards reserve Austin Fritza scored nine of his 16 points in the third quarter, but the fourth quarter saw starters Kaleb Comstock and Nathan Rogers – who had Comstock’s two first-half free throws and Rogers’ five third-quarter points to show between them – come to life and slowly chip away at the Bearcats’ stretch advantage.
Hadden gave Scottsbluff a 47-42 lead with 5:55 remaining, but Fritza cut the margin to one at 47-46 and then Comstock tied the game at 48-all with 3:45 left to play.

Hinze ripped a 3-pointer with 1:50 left, giving the Bearcats a 51-48 lead, but a basket by Fritza and – then, after Moreno lost the ball on alternating possession with 1:01 remaining – a Rogers 3-pointer put SSC ahead 53-51with 40 seconds left.

Hadden, who finished with a game-high 23 points, knotted the score with two free throws with 18 seconds left. After a Cards time-out with 14.3 seconds remaining, Rogers fed Comstock on a give-and-go lay-up with 3.0 seconds left.

“We just couldn’t stop them at the end; they made 14 of their last 15 shots,” Siske said. “We just weren’t able to get stops. We forced them to take some outside shots that we wanted them to take and they knocked them down. There’s not much you can do when people are making shots like they were.”

The Bearcats’ in-bounds pass, however, was intercepted at midcourt – Scottsbluff’s 14th turnover after each team had seven after three quarters. A successful in-bounds pass into Fritza sealed victory for the Cinderella Cardinals (16-12).

Hadden was 9-for-13 from the floor and 5-for-6 on free throws in accumulating his 23 points that he matched with a game-high eight rebounds. Moreno was 4-for-9 from beyond the 3-point arc and 7-for-12 overall in amassing 18 points and followed Hadden on the boards with six.

While Klein had just three points, he led Scottsbluff with three steals and shared a team-high four assists with Hinze.
The Bearcats had a 26-24 edge in rebounds, with Rogers leading SSC with seven.

After shooting less than 30 percent from the floor in the first half, the Cardinals were 15-for-25 (60 percent) in the second half, including 8 of 9 in the fourth quarter. They were 45.6 percent accurate for the game and hit 7 of 9 free throws.

Scottsbluff hit 46.5 percent of its shots, including 9 of 16 in the second half; however, the Bearcats got off just four shots in the fourth quarter. They were 5-for-8 on free throws and 8-for-19 on 3-pointers.

Besides the second-place medals the Bearcats received for their tournament finish, the cloudiness of finishing as the runner-up was gleaned with plenty of silver linings for Scottsbluff.
“I’m very proud of our kids and what they accomplished,” said Siske, who was leading his fourth Bearcat team to state in his six years at Scottsbluff. “It’s not easy to get to the state tournament, let alone win two games. We had a great year.”

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