Underdog Bearcat girls ready for state challenge
     2015-03-05      By Terry Gaston    sports@geringcitizen.com
Photo by Ken Kurtz/Spectrum Photo - Scottsbluff junior Aly Camacho (No. 22) and Bearcat junior Zoe Holscher (No. 15) double-team Gering freshman Victoria Schwartz (No. 10) during the teams’ Jan. 13 game at the Gering High School gymnasium, won by Scottsbluff 62-44. The Bearcat girls are making their third trip to the Class B State Tournament, opening today against Lincoln Pius X. 
Every state basketball tournament bracket should have a Cinderella story.
After taking an 8-12 record into the District B-6 tournament last week, the Scottsbluff girls just might be the ones with the glass slippers after the Bearcats swept their way into the Class B State Tournament for the first time since 2011.

The Bearcats will be decisive underdogs when they take to the court this morning (Thursday) for Class B State Tournament first-round action against No. 1 Lincoln Pius X (19-2). The teams will play at Pinnacle Bank Arena at 10:45 Central Time.
But Rachel Larson, whose team has risen from a 2-20 campaign last year into Scottsbluff’s third state tournament in the past 10 years, said her girls will be ready for the challenge that awaits.

“It’s super exciting,” Larson said. “I knew we had the kids that could make it happen. I’m just really excited and so happy that it happened so quickly. It’s just really exciting and it just shows how hard the kids have worked to get to this point and how much they wanted it.”

The Bearcats have won two straight games on four occasions and held a winning record just twice, the last being 5-4. Scottsbluff then went on a slide of 1-7, losing the last five straight.
But since, the Bearcats have won four of five, including two more two-game winning streaks.

“It’s a process, but at the same time that we’re moving up and that the kids have responded so well to what we’re trying to do and it’s just been nice to see,” Larson said.

“We’ve had the tools. We only lost a couple players coming back. It was more of the kids getting to where they could believe and understand that it was a possibility and need to learn how to win. When you’ve lost for a long time, it’s hard to learn how to win. Once they got to that point, I think that was a turning point.”
The Bearcats are balanced with junior guard Zoe Holscher scoring 232 points (10.5 average on the season with 26 3-pointers), while junior Aly Camacho is right behind with 230 points (also a 10.5 average.)

Camacho averages a team-high 7.8 rebounds after she has recorded numerous double-doubles down the stretch, and she is the team leader in steals with 44 (2.0 average). Holscher leads the team in assists with 35 (1.6 average) and follows Camacho in steals with 38 (1.7 average).

Other key scorers, especially in the district tournament, are junior Chloey Reifschneider (7.7 average with 31 3-point baskets) and senior Aubrey Ford (3.0 average).

Reifschneider scored 24 points, including five 3-pointers, in leading Scottsbluff past McCook 48-39 in the district semifinals, while Ford scored 13 with three 3-balls in pacing the Bearcats’ 40-36, district-clinching win over No. 1 seed Sidney.
Junior Chesney Walker carries averages of 8.4 points and 3.5 rebounds while Kyra Willats, Scottsbluff’s only other senior, has 1.7 points and 2.3 rebounds. Sophomore Sally Welsh is averaging 2.0 points and 2.0 rebounds a game.

The task at hand at state is facing a Pius X team that is on a mission of its own after the Thunderbolts lost in last year’s state championship game to Grand Island Northwest, 66-55.

Pius X is making its 19th state tourney appearance, winning the Class B title in 1991 and 1992, finishing as the runner-up seven times and taking third place in 2008.
Scottsbluff, on the other hand, has lost in the first round of its two previous trips to state, falling to Gretna in 2006 and to Beatrice in 2011.

“It’s one of those things that upsets happen every day,” Larson said. “We could be on our best, they could be on their worst and we could pull off a huge upset.”
The Bearcats will have to contend with 6-foot-2 senior Maddie Simon, a guard-forward who is averaging 18.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Another threat for the Bolts is 6-foot senior Kennedy Sander, a forward-center who averages 15.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest.

An outside senior threat for Pius X is 5-5 guard Briahtia Sebek, who averages 7.1 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists.
“We’ll work on boxing out because they’re very big,” Larson said. “We’ll work on our defensive half-court game. There are always things you can work on, but those are a couple things we need to do.”

The winner between Scottsbluff and Pius X will play Friday against Thursday’s winner between No. 4 seed Elkhorn South (19-6) and No. 5 seed Omaha Gross Catholic. The first-round victors will play Friday at 2 p.m. CST at Pinnacle Bank Arena, with the championship game set for 1 p.m.

The opposite Class B bracket has No. 2 seed Norris (16-6) facing No. 7 Hastings (13-11) and No. 3 York (21-4) taking on No. 6 Elkhorn (18-6).
Larson has said for much of the season that Scottsbluff’s difficult schedule has prepared them for success, first at the district level and now she is hoping at state.

The Bearcats have played six teams that are either Class A or the South Dakota and Wyoming equivalent of those states’ largest class. Scottsbluff is 0-6 against those higher-class teams, losing by as few as 13 twice and as many as 49, with an average deficit of 27.8 points.

“We’re going down there to compete and do our best,” Larson said. “I think the fact that we have played a lot of Class A schools had helped us with that. We’re going to go down there and give them all we got and see how the cards fall.”
Regardless of how the Bearcats prevail today, Larson said the team will stay to watch the entire tournament.

“I’m really excited to take this long trip with this group of kids, because they are just a lot of fun to be around,” she said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”
And the glass slippers just might be waiting come Saturday afternoon for a ball of a celebration Saturday night.

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