Gering boys grab 3rd place at Western Conference Tourney
     2015-12-11      By Jerry Purvis    news@geringcitizen.com
Photo by Nathan Flowers/Spectrum Photography Gering Bulldogs junior forward Christian Rogers goes up for a jump shot against Omaha Gross on Thursday night in the first round of the Western Conference Tournament played at Western Nebraska Community College. 
Fans got their first chance to see the Gering basketball teams at the Western Conference Invitational Tournament on Dec. 3-5, and it looks like it will be exciting season for the Bulldogs.

Both Gering boys and girls opened on Thursday at Gering High School against the Omaha Gross Catholic Cougars. While the boys got a 52-40 win, the girls’ squad lost in the opening round by 44-32.

The Gering Bulldogs boys team eventually took third place in the tournament with a victory over Chadron 56-38 on Saturday, after falling to Greeley West 75-57 in the consolation semi-finals. Meanwhile, the Sidney Red Raiders took home the title with a 69-53 win over Greeley West (Colo.).

The Gering girls team placed seventh with a 73-34 win over Greeley West, while Chadron triumphed over the Lady Raiders 49-25 in the title game.

In getting to the championship round, the Lady Raiders defeated Omaha Gross, 67-54, on Friday night.

The Gering boys came out in a zone defense that saw Omaha Gross open a 17-11 lead in the first quarter. Nine of those points came from Cougars who shot three 3-pointers in the game’s first eight minutes.

Getting back to a man-to-man defense in the second quarter made a big difference for Gering as they held Omaha Gross to just two points while they added 12 to their score. At halftime it was 23-19 in the Bulldogs’ favor.

The Bulldogs kept up their strong defense in the third quarter, outscoring Omaha Gross 14-4. Trey Winkler popped in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to extend the Bulldog lead to 37-23.

There was a still a quarter to be played when Omaha Gross started making a comeback, in spite of the momentum being against them. The Cougars managed to narrow the score to 39-34 with just over three minutes left on the clock. By the 2½ minute mark, it was 43-37 in Gering’s favor.

The Bulldogs stayed tough as they sank five free throws in the last 1:10, four of them by senior Austin Hoffman, to take the 52-40 win.

Gering Coach Randy Plummer said the team started out with a zone defense to stop the inside game, but not as effective in stopping 3-point shots. “Omaha Gross didn’t want to take the ball inside, they wanted shoot 3-pointers. So we had to chase them around the court all night.”

Plummer said the team primarily played zone defense last season, but they’re trying more man-to-man this year. And it was effective in their opening game. Earlier Friday afternoon, the Gering girls took on Omaha Gross with a squad that featured a number of young players who haven’t had a lot of varsity experience. Still, it was a hard-fought game as the Bulldogs held Omaha Gross to just 44 points.

The Cougars were leading 19-14 at halftime and extended the lead to 28-20 after three quarters. Late in the game, Omaha Gross was up 44-24.

Even with being on the short end of a lopsided lead, the Bulldogs continued to battle, scoring the last eight points in the game’s final two minutes. Omaha Gross took the win, 44-32.

Gering girls’ Coach Adam Freeburg said the team has a lot of good shooters, but they missed a lot of easy shots during the game. Building their confidence as the season progresses will be part of what the team will be working on.

Another area the team will be addressing is ball handling, due to the number of turnovers they made in the Omaha Gross game.

“I thought we did OK for the first game of the season,” Freeburg said. “We have a starting point so we know what we need to improve on. I was looking for effort from the kids and that’s what I got.”

The Gering boys advanced to the semifinal game on Friday, played at Western Nebraska Community College. Their opponent was a B-6 foe in the Sidney Red Raiders. Sidney, the Class B runner-up at last year’s state tournament, had advanced from a 60-46 win over Alliance.

Although Gering led for much of the game where 10 players saw action, the Red Raiders pulled out a thriller of a win, 63-59.

Sidney started off the game with a 13-8 lead over Gering, but the Bulldogs took control in the second period, outscoring Sidney 25-16 and taking a 33-29 lead into halftime.

The third quarter saw Gering press its advantage as the Bulldogs took a 37-31 lead. But the Red Raiders were able to close the gap to 43-42 when the buzzer sounded.

The fourth quarter was less than a minute old when Gering’s Trey Winkler hit a 3-pointer to go up 59-57. It was also the quarter when the Bulldogs’ fortune changed.

Austin Hoffman, who had contributed a team-high 16 points on the board, along with Keaton Ebbers, both fouled out in the middle of the quarter. From there, the Bulldogs struggled to keep their offense rolling. In the final three minutes, Gering missed scoring on four possessions and turned the ball over twice.

“It took away some of our weapons when two players foul out,” Plummer said. “It was a struggle to score after that.”

Hoffman’s 16 points and another 15 by Trey Winkler weren’t enough to seal the deal, as Sidney dropped Gering 63-59.

“It was a discouraging loss, but good to know we can compete with any of the teams,” Plummer said. “We need to work on being more physical because we play some teams that are a lot bigger than us. That’s more of a mindset than anything else.”

In the consolation round, Gering beat Chadron by 18 points, 56-38, going 2-1 on the weekend. Gering next sees action against Mitchell on Dec. 10 and Alliance on Dec. 11.

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