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March 2, 2013Lots of action Friday at the girls state tournament, especially later in the day, setting up a set of six excellent state championship games.
My take the state finals pairings:
Class A: Lincoln Southeast v. Bellevue West, 1 p.m. It's the game most people wanted to see and it comes to pass only after Bellevue West (27-1) holds off defending state champion Omaha Central in the semis, 53-50. Right now Southeast's Jessica Shepard is playing at a level that we have seldom (ever?) seen from a Nebraska high school girls basketball player but will that be enough?
Class B: Grand Island Northwest v. Norris, 6:30 p.m. The numbers here are 3 and 4.
Three, as in the third time's charm for Norris, which upset Beatrice in the semifinals, making eight big free throws late in regulation to get the game into overtime before winning, 59-54, after twice losing to Beatrice earlier in the season.
As for 4, that's the number where Seward's string of state titles ends after the Bluejays lost to wild card qualifier Grand Island Northwest, 57-45. Northwest, big and athletic, simply created too many match-up problems for the Bluejays, with star junior McKenzie Brown leading the way with 18 points. Northwest has only played one bad quarter in a month and that was the fourth quarter of their district final loss to Holdrege.
And while I am not positive, this is the first time I can remember the two wild cards playing for the state title. Do I have that right?
Class C-1: Pierce v. Kearney Catholic, 4:30 p.m. Another wild card reaches the finals, with Pierce turning the trick after an impressive 52-34 thrashing of emotionally spent Chadron. Pierce won on the strength of its, well, strength and size, overwhelming the Cardinals, who also ran out of gas in the second half after the tournament's saddest moment, a serious knee injury suffered by their best player, junior Ashlea Kerr.
It is Pierce's first-ever trip to the finals and it's well-deserved. Nothing fancy from Pierce but they will have the size to make Kearney Catholic work.
Kearney Catholic was one of the two most impressive teams I saw play yesterday, this just a day after an uninspired performance while holding off Norfolk Catholic in the opening round. The Stars are so athletic, so deep, and when you have your 6-1 posts dropping in three-bombs like they are lay-ups, you have something special. Tough seeing them getting beat today if they play like that.
Class C-2: Crofton v. St. Cecilia, 9 a.m. Game starts in just a bit and there is no bigger favorite today than Crofton, which is unbeaten and the most impressive team I've see in person this tournament.
In what many saw as the state title game, the Warriors overpowered a gritty, talented Homer team that simply couldn't get a decent shot off against Crofton's stifling defense. Expect more of the same from Crofton today.
St. Cecilia reached the finals with a 52-42 win against Hershey and will try to win the game on the basis of its great team speed. St. Cecilia will need to force Crofton into some uncharacteristic mistakes to stay with the defending champs.
Class D-1: Pender v. St. Mary's, 8:30. Pender get here by edging Emerson-Hubbard, 52-48, and features a couple of strong post players. They were the pre-tournament favorite to advance to the final and have delivered.
St. Mary's came up with one of the biggest upsets of the tournament, knocking out defending champion Guardian Angels Central Catholic in the semifinals, 58-52. The Cardinals did so despite missing their first six free throws of the fourth quarter.
The win puts St. Mary's in its first ever state final and created a great buzz for the last game of the day. If St. Mary's can keep Pender off the boards it could make a clean sweep and match the boys' state title from last March.
Class D-2: Wynot v. Osmond, 11 a.m. Never count out a two-time defending state champion. Sounds like a good idea, especially after Wynot knocked out one-loss Lindsay Holy Family, 43-40, holding everybody on the LHF roster not named Kaylee Jensen to a combined 18 points.
Wynot once again features a deep team with tremendous balance, excellent guard play and a go-to player in junior all-stater Maggie Schulte. Could be that recipe yields another title.
In order to do so Wynot will need to beat Osmond, another really talented, balanced team. Love the way senior leader Laurel Krohn not only keeps those young teammates of her organized and focused but also in the way she's able to create big plays at crucial times, both skills which will be needed tonight.