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March 5, 2014

From a Scrub's Standpoint

Been a crazy day in the office but I have a few things I'd like to say about last night's boys basketball district finals.

Let's skip all the preliminaries and get right to it, shall we...

Class A

For the most part the train arrived at the station right on time. All seven district tournament hosts, the top seven teams in the wild card standings, delivered district winning performances and the final team in the state tournament field, wild card Norfolk, reached the district final.

I'm probably guaranteeing an Omaha Central state championship by saying this but - Class A looks wide open. Central is still Central, Eric Behrens is still the coach and Tre'Shawn Thurman isn't exactly chopped liver, as they used to say back in the day. (And apparently now, too.)

Central will be a tough out - gee, after winning seven state titles in eight years, ya think? - but teams like Omaha Benson, Omaha South and Omaha Westside are legit title contenders and a team like Bellevue West is so fast and athletic, you could see the T-Birds winning three in a row, right?

Except, Huskerland Bob, they play Central in the first round at state.

Oh.

Class B

Unbeaten Elkhorn South, 24-0 and rising, showed a lot of guts in getting past an Omaha Skutt team which had given the Storm their biggest scare during the regular season. Finishing any varsity basketball unbeaten is a mighty tall task but Elkhorn South has a terrific blend of size, speed, skill and a great floor leader in senior guard Matt Thomas.

In other words, the type of team that could pull it off, an unbeaten season I mean.

Under the leadership of head coach Ray Forycki Pius X boys basketball has always been good, often great, and getting the Thunderbolts back in the state tournament adds some spice to the proceedings. A couple of weeks ago York beat Beatrice, 57-52, but last night the Orange turned things around, whipping the Dukes by 15 points. Not to look ahead - OK, to look ahead - Beatrice and Pius, programs with a shared, well, enthusiasm for playing one another, currently sit one game removed from facing each other in the Class B semifinals. Don't know about you, but that would be more than a little fine with me.

(Suddenly I think back to the most vicious state final I can remember, the 1998 Class B game between Pius and Beatrice. Fouls were few and far between - I believe the idea was to let the players decide the game for themselves - and as a result I remember both teams taking a tremendous beating, with Beatrice coming out a 60-46 winner. Psst...I looked the score up but think I have the rest right...)

Roncalli kept us from seeing Bennington's rising sophomore Bart Hiscock at the state tournament. Great comeback for the Crimson and head coach Jim Meister. As by buddy Jimmy Motz - @JimmyMotz - tweeted, not all that long ago Grand Island Northwest was 29th in Class B wild card points and eighth seed in the Central Conference tournament but after beating Aurora in the B-5 final the Vikings are going to state.

Lots of jumble in the Panhandle - Gering, Scottsbluff, Sidney, they all look the same - only Scottsbluff did what it always does, wins the district.



Class D-1

Biggest heartbreak of the postseason, and it's not close, suffered by Sandhills/Thedford. An errant in-bounds pass with less than three seconds left in regulation allowed favored Clearwater/Orchard to inbounds the ball under its own basket, lobbing a poss to 6-6 sophomore star Andy Kerkman, who banked home the winner.

Howells-Dodge may well win another Class D-1 championship but this time it will be as a wild card as Randolph snuck past the Jaguars, 62-60, in the D1-2 final. Outstanding free throw shooting in the extra period helped Randolph offset three H-D threes. Those teams could meet in the state semifinals, too. Those Elm Creek (Randolph) and Fullerton (Howells-Dodge) say, "hey, what about us?"

North Platte St. Pat's has lost only once this season but came awfully close to making it twice in the D1-6, edging Hemingford 60-59. The guy you want to be today - every day, right Alex? - is Irish senior Alex Harms, who made the game-winning free throws with 16 seconds left in regulation, giving him a game-high 17 points.

Lourdes Central Catholic (59-43 over BDS) and Overton (70-48 over Cambridge) were easy winners and reinforce the idea they could win the whole thing in D-1.

Class D-2

Don't foul High Plains. At least not in the fourth quarter. Last night.

The Storm sank their last 19 consecutive free throws, 16 of them in the fourth quarter, as they pulled away to an impressive 67-55 win against Bancroft-Rosalie, in one of the featured D-2 district title games. This is the game I attended and Bancroft-Rosalie took control of the game in the second quarter but its outside shooting cooled in the second half, High Plains' depth started to take a toll and all those made free throws finished the Panthers off.

Falls City Sacred Heart was in, Exeter-Milligan hoped it was in, figured it was in, and then made sure it was in by scoring a gritty 63-60 overtime win against the Irish in the D2-1 district final. Exeter-Milligan got the game into overtime and then turned it over to my boy - not my SON, but my boy, you know, my BOY - Kyle Jensen, who sank the game winning free throws with 23 seconds left in OT.

Exeter-Milligan and High Plains, who split two games in the regular season, face each other in the FIRST round at state. That doesn't seem right.

The third biggie among D-2 districts was a rematch of last year's state final, only this time it was role reversal as Spalding/Spalding Academy held off a Wynot rally to claim a 62-58 win. Spalding/SPA advances to state, though it winds up in a killer half of the bracket with High Plains and Exeter-Milligan, while Wynot and its 20 wins stays home. You know the drill but that's the way the cookie crumbles. (Sorry to go all Bruce Nolan on you there...)

Pandemonium struck Elwood overnight, as the Pirates qualified for the first time since 1990, downing Kenesaw 57-48 in the D1-4 district final. Gotta love stories like there, where the town folk are all kinds of pumped up, ready to descend upon Cheddars soon as the game's over.

Saw Hitchcock County at its conference tournament and liked what I saw. The Falcons also won a tough decision, beating Paxton, a program with a couple of state tournament trophies laying around, by four points. Hitchcock and Bancroft-Rosalie will face off in the first round at state and that will be a fun one to watch.

Leyton returns to state for a third straight season, putting together a couple of late touchdown drives in a 35-21 win over Cody-Kilgore. Don't discount the Warriors, they played three games at state last March and played Sacred Heart within a point. Just sayin'...


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