Scrappy, second-half comebacks put ‘Dogs, ‘Cats into district finals
     2014-03-06      By Terry Gaston    sports@geringcitizen.com
Photo by Philip Eckerberg/for the Citizen - Gering senior Isaiah Wilson (No. 21) looks for an open teammate during Monday’s semi-final against McCook. The Bulldogs defeated McCook 60-48.  
SCOTTSBLUFF — No. 1 seed Gering and No. 3 Scottsbluff each found themselves in tussles during their respective semifinal games Monday night of the District B-6 boys’ basketball tournament at Western Nebraska Community College’s Cougar Palace.

By night’s end, the Bulldogs and Bearcats had scored victories that put the Twin Cities arch-rivals right back where they started the season on Dec. 5: against each other, but this time, with a Class B State Tournament berth on the line Tuesday night.

For Gering guard Riley Haug and his six fellow seniors, the Bulldogs faced a scrappy McCook team that traded leads with the Bulldogs seven times in the first half and into a 21-all deadlock after one half of play.

After Haug was scoreless in the first half, he hit three third-quarter 3-pointers – the first a trey-and-one, four-point play – and a fourth 3-ball in the fourth period that fueled Gering to a 60-48 victory over the upset-minded, No. 5 seeded Bison.

The youth-laden Scottsbluff Bearcats, in their third try to knock off the No. 2 seed Sidney Red Raiders this season, overcame a nine-point deficit from early in the fourth quarter to score a 57-50 win.

Scottsbluff junior Trent Harris – like Haug, scoreless in his team’s first half – unloaded for 14 second-half points and scored five points in a 12-0 Bearcat swing at the start of the fourth quarter that turned a 44-35 deficit into a 47-44 lead.

Harris finished off Sidney’s last-ditch comeback bid by nailing two free throws with 15.2 seconds remaining, sealing the Scottsbluff victory that was the first this season for the Bearcats over the Red Raiders – who won the teams’ other meetings on consecutive Saturday’s 66-62 at home Feb. 1 and 56-54 at Scottsbluff seven days later.

Gering 60, McCook 48

McCook (11-15) had advanced to Monday’s semifinal after the Bison scored a 63-44 win Saturday over No. 4 seed Alliance (7-14) in North Platte. And the Bison led Gering (19-5) six times, but by no more than three points.

A stern halftime talk from Bulldogs coach Randy Plummer, Haug said, helped set the tone for Gering’s 22-point outburst in the third quarter.

“At halftime, he pretty much told us that if we wanted to meet our goals that we had for this year of making state, the way we played the first half wasn’t going to do it,” Haug said. “If we wanted to win, we had to pick it up.”

After junior Joses Palomo hit a half-opening 3-pointer, Haug’s first two 3-pointers each gave the Bulldogs the lead, and his third trey of the third quarter put Gering ahead 43-38. Haug’s fourth trey of the game, with 6:05 remaining, gave the Bulldogs a 47-40 advantage they would never relinquish.
“Being a senior, I just didn’t want to go out right now,” Haug said. “We have bigger goals as a team and we wanted to keep pushing forward.”

Haug had three other Bulldogs, reach double figures in scoring. Senior Christian Groskopf matched Haug’s 13-point effort, while classmate Grant Olsson followed with 11 and sophomore Austin Hoffman added 10. Palomo hit three 3-pointers in scoring nine points.

McCook had a pair of 16-point scorers in senior Mac Allspaugh and junior Peyton Stagemeyer in keeping the Bison much closer than their 65-39 loss at Gering on Feb. 14.

The win was Gering’s first in district play since 2007, Plummer’s first year as the Bulldogs’ head coach, and helped erase some of the pain from last year’s 78-77, double-overtime loss to Alliance in the first round of the district tournament.

“This whole week preparing, we talked about last year and how districts is pretty much a whole new year,” Haug said. “Last year we beat Alliance twice, came in here in districts and lost in double overtime. So that just shows right there that it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the regular season; districts is where it’s at.”

That is some monkey to get off the Bulldogs’ back.

“More like a gorilla,” Plummer quipped at halftime of the second semifinal game.

Scottsbluff 57, Sidney 50

At the beginning, Sidney rode three 3-pointers by senior Paxton Ehler to an 11-2 lead. But Scottsbluff did not panic and pulled to within two at 11-9 late in the first half after sophomore Austin Clarkson scored inside and on a 3-pointer.

The Bearcats (15-9) had a brief, 14-13 lead early in the second quarter on freshman Dru Kuhhausen’s 3-ball, only to have Red Raiders sophomore Kolton O’Connell answer with a trey 21 seconds later. Sidney rode Ehler’s four first-half 3-pointers to a 28-27 lead.

Clarkson had seven first-half points and junior Jackson Hines and freshman Landon Walker scored six apiece for Scottsbluff. But All got passed in the second half when Harris found his stroke and began his 14-point run with six third-quarter points.

But when Sidney junior guard Lane Harvey turned a quarter-opening steal into a traditional three-point play and a 44-35 Red Raider lead with 7:43 remaining, the Bearcats still remained cool and collected, and Scottsbluff coach Tony Siske kept his timeouts in his pocket.

“We’ve been through a lot of situations, and we know that we’re capable of coming back and overcoming those,” Siske said. “We just fought hard to the end, making the plays that needed to be made. And then when we got the lead, we played well with it.”

On the Bearcats’ game-turning 12-0 run, sophomore Dillon Hernandez had five points and Kuxhausen hit his second trey to go with Harris’ four points in the run.

The Bearcats shot 46 percent for the night while holding Sidney to 35.1 percent from the floor.

“Early on, they were making a lot of shots,” Siske said. “We just stuck with the process and continued to defend.”

The Bearcats and Red Raiders hit seven 3-pointers apiece, but Scottsbluff held a three-point edge by hitting all eight of its free throws while Sidney was 5-for-8 at the line.

Sidney (16-7) got a game-high 23 points from Ehler, who hit five 3-balls, and 10 from sophomore Tyler Wintholz.

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