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Broncos lose at buzzer in state title game PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 17 March 2011 20:23

Giltner Hornets sting Wau-Pal to take the championship in dramatic fashion

By Josh Sumner

The Wauneta Breeze

 

Overtime seemed like a certainty in last Saturday’s state championship basketball game between Wauneta-Palisade (26-2) and Giltner (25-2).

Tied 54-54 in the game’s final moments, Wau-Pal’s Drew Harris nearly launched himself into the Devaney Center rafters, as he blocked Jacob Findley’s game-winning attempt from the corner. The swatted ball rolled out of bounds, but 1.6 seconds remained on the game clock.

As each team huddled around their bench in the timeout that followed, fans braced themselves for the inevitable overtime.

But as it turned out, the script was being rewritten by Giltner Head Coach Matt Drew.

WP Bronco Drew Harris springs into motion during Wau-Pal’s second round victory over Sterling in the Nebraska D-2 State Tournament. Harris led all scorers in the D-2 tourney with 58 points over three days, and was named to the All-Tournament Team. (Wauneta Breeze Photos | Josh Sumner)

 

Giltner inbounded the ensuing possession to its best shooter, Ethan Kreutz, who had enough time to dribble, pull up and release a high-arching shot from nearly NBA range. The ball hung in the air for what felt like hours. When it finally came down, it hit nothing but net.

In the blink of an eye, the Giltner Hornets had stolen the state title from the Broncos, stunning the Wau-Pal players, coaches and cheering section.

“It was a great shot,” said WP Head Coach Dave Kuhlen. “I can stand back and appreciate it. You’ve got to give the kid credit, because if I was coaching him, I’d tell him he has to catch and shoot. You never know if you’re going to be allowed a dribble in 1.6 seconds.”

Bronco Ricky Martin (No. 33), at right, moves around a Giltner defender in Saturday’s state title game. Martin averaged 8.7 points-per-game in the state tournament.

 

The game between the Broncos and Hornets was a battle from the opening whistle. Wauneta-Palisade came out as the aggressor, opening the game with a 14-6 scoring edge.

WP’s full-court press held true to form, as the Broncos forced several errant passes in the game’s first quarter. But, as has often been the case this season, aggressive defense created foul trouble for the Broncs. WP’s Harris picked up his second foul with nearly 3 minutes to go in the first quarter, while Bo Fanning was whistled for his third foul only midway through the second quarter.

Meanwhile, the Broncos’ scoring attack ensued. Behind the sharp shooting of Ricky Martin and the inside tenacity of Harris, WP jumped out to a 23-12 second quarter lead.

WP’s Bo Fanning, at right, keeps the ball away from the outstretched hands of Giltner defenders. Fanning scored 7 points against the Hornets.

 

But Giltner didn’t back down. The Hornets went on a 15-4 scoring run, tying the game with less than 30 seconds left in the first half on a Drew Ott bucket. WP’s Logan Bischoff scored in the closing seconds to give WP a 29-27 lead.

Mysteriously absent from the box score in the first half of the game was WP’s Chris Bartels, who scored only 2 points through 2 quarters. In the second half, he made his presence known from the start.

Bartels scored the first basket of the second half with a floater in the lane, then promptly stole the ball and dished it to Fanning for another quick strike. Similar to the beginning of the first half, the Broncos came out of the locker room in a sprint.

Bartels spearheaded the Broncos’ offense in the second half, helping WP build a 42-34 lead midway through the third quarter.

But Giltner used a big rebounding edge and the 3-point shooting of Kreutz to grab the momentum right back. A put-back by Hornet Lucas Richards tied the game 42-42.

Bronco Chris Bartels goes up strong with the basketball in championship game action against the Giltner Hornets.

 

Missed opportunities by WP in the closing seconds of the third quarter kept the game tied as the fourth quarter opened.

As fouls continued to mount for Wau-Pal, two key Broncos were lost: Fanning picked up his fifth foul shortly into the fourth quarter, followed by Martin, who fouled out with 2:58 left in the ball game. With the two starters out of the game, Giltner upped its attack.

The Hornets ran its offense through the inside play of Ott, who finished the day with a game-high 18 points and 17 rebounds. Giltner used its muscle to mount a 36-18 rebounding advantage in the contest, including a 15-4 advantage on the offensive boards. With 2:26 left in the game, the Hornets found themselves up 54-49.

That’s when Broncos Bartels and Harris mounted the last stand of their varsity basketball careers toward winning the state title.

First it was Bartels with penetration inside to get the game within 3 points. Then it was Harris drawing a foul and making 2 free throws to inch within 1.

A carrying call on Giltner’s Trevor Poppen gave WP the basketball with 1:10 left in the game. Bartels made a move to the bucket, picked up the foul and headed to the free throw line with less than a minute left in regulation.

Bartels, an 86 percent free throw shooter, made the first attempt to tie the game 54-54. The second attempt rimmed out, however, setting up Giltner’s final game-winning possession.

Wau-Pal’s Reese West, at left, shares a rare smile with Coach Kuhlen while receiving his second place medal after the championship game against Giltner.

 

In the end, WP couldn’t overcome the plethora of second-chance opportunities allowed to Giltner. The Broncos did force 18 turnovers, while coughing up the ball only 6 times themselves.

“We had too many kids who were on the periphery of play,” said Kuhlen. “You can’t do that when you’re in the state championship game.”

The Broncos were led in scoring by Bartels with 17 points — 15 of which came after halftime. Harris scored 16 points to go along with a team-high 7 rebounds. Martin added 12 points in the loss.

Bartels and Harris, both of whom were named to the All-Tournament Team, were the top two scorers in the D-2 tournament. Harris notched 58 points in the three games — 1 point better than Bartels’ 57-point effort over the weekend. Giltner’s Kreutz finished with 16 points in the championship game, including 5 made 3-pointers.

 

Broncos take out No. 2 Sterling

Wau-Pal had to overcome an early 9-5 deficit to take down the No. 2-seeded Sterling Jets (23-6) in front of a packed house at Lincoln’s Pershing Center on Friday.

The toughest part of the matchup would be figuring out how to contain Sterling’s leading scorer, 6-foot-9 Connor Malone. In the first half, the Broncos did just that.

Finding themselves down in the early going, Coach Kuhlen called a timeout to reiterate to his players his plea for preventing Sterling from getting the ball in close. Wau-Pal’s half-court defense responded, as the zone began to front the taller Sterling players, preventing them from catching the ball inside.

Then the offense found its stride. Bartels scored in bunches by slashing to the rack, as he led all scorers with 18 points in the game. The Broncos used a 19-6 scoring run to take a 24-15 lead into the locker room.

Hayden Pollmann (No. 24), at left, celebrates with teammate Chris Bartels (No. 31) after the Broncos’ win against Sterling, which secured WP’s spot in Saturday’s championship game.

 

But it was the defense that was the real story in the early going — especially that of Fanning, who was charged with helping defend Malone for most the game.

“I asked Bo, ‘You got any plans for Malone once he comes into the lane?’” said Kuhlen. “He just got a big smile on his face. That’s Bo. He takes on every challenge and he’s an awfully competitive kid. He could care less how many points he scores — he wants to play defense.”

Fanning’s defensive prowess was key to the Broncos’ success in the game. But in the second half, the job got tougher. Fanning picked up his fourth foul just minutes into the third quarter.

Exploiting Wau-Pal’s weakness of having Fanning on the bench, Sterling went on the offensive in the second half. The Jets dominated inside in the third quarter, outscoring WP 21-13. Malone and Jake Wirthele took on most of the scoring load for Sterling.

Keeping the Broncos in the game in the third quarter was Ricky Martin, who had his jump shot working from all over the floor.

The Wau-Pal reserve players stand united prior to the Broncos’ championship game against Giltner at the Devaney Center. Standing from left are Wes Anderjaska, Weylin Davis, Jacob Maris, Logan Bischoff, Landon Jutten, Jack McGraw and Hayden Pollmann.

 

“They made a great run at us in the third quarter,” said Kuhlen. “I thought Ricky Martin hit some very big shots for us.”

Entering the fourth quarter, Sterling had cut the Wau-Pal lead to 37-36. And with 3:47 left in the game, they took the lead back for the first time since the first quarter, 42-41.

With momentum clearly on the side of the Jets, WP’s Harris did what he has done all season — hit big shots. The senior, with ice water in his blood, dropped in a key 3-pointer to retake the lead 44-42.

The Broncos never trailed again, as they went on to win the game 50-46.

Wauneta-Palisade’s Jacob Maris (No. 13), at right, tries to elude Tyler Timmerman (No. 25) of the St. Mary’s Cardinals. Wau-Pal knocked off St. Mary’s 63-54 in the opening round of state basketball action, securing their stay in Lincoln throughout Saturday’s championship and consolation round. The Broncos’ opening round win preceded a second round victory over Sterling, 50-46.

 

Harris scored 17 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in the game, while Martin scored 10 points. Malone led the Jets with 17 points.

The height difference between Sterling and the undersized Broncos was immense — Sterling had seven players on its roster listed at 6-foot-1 or taller.

But luck was on Wau-Pal’s side. Long offensive rebounds and blocked shots by Sterling seemed to go right back to the Broncos all game long.

“Luck becomes an element when you’re dealing with two even teams,” said Kuhlen. “I felt like Sterling and us were very even. Bounces go your way sometimes, and bounces don’t go your way sometimes.”

 

Wau-Pal outlasts St. Mary’s

Similar to the start of the Sterling game, Wau-Pal found themselves down to No. 6-seeded St. Mary’s (22-3) early in the first round of state action.

The Cardinals used patience to find quality shots, as they worked the ball in low for easy looks, jumping out to an 11-4 lead.

Then Wau-Pal had an offensive explosion. A pair of 3-pointers by Harris got things started, followed by a smooth feed from Fanning to Reese West to tie the game 16-16. Another pair of 3-pointers — coming from unlikely sources in West and Jack McGraw+ — put the Broncos out front 22-16 at the end of the first quarter.

The fast offensive pace continued into the second quarter for both teams. St. Mary’s Derek Blumenstock scored his team’s first 8 points of the quarter, tying the game 24-24. Then the two teams traded traditional 3-point plays — the first coming after Drew Harris was fouled on an inside score, and the second coming for Tait Sibbel of St. Mary’s.

The Bronco student section explodes following Wau-Pal’s opening round win over St. Mary’s at Lincoln North Star High School.

 

With WP up 38-33, St. Mary’s held the ball for the final possession of the half. A blocked shot by Fanning on Ty Eiler’s shot from the corner would be reminiscent of the final play of the championship game against Giltner. The block sent the ball out of bounds, but on the ensuing play, St. Mary’s inbounded the ball to Kyle Eby who promptly hit a 3-pointer to beat the buzzer. The last-second shot pulled St. Mary’s within 2 points at half time.

But Wau-Pal had some buzzer-beaters of their own over the weekend. With 1.7 seconds left in the third quarter, West threw the ball into Harris who hit a shot from the top of the key, giving Wau-Pal a 51-44 lead. The Broncos rode the momentum through the remainder of the game, holding off the Cardinals’ intensified fourth quarter pressure and winning the ball game 63-54.

St. Mary’s used a tough full-court trap to try to speed up Wau-Pal in the fourth quarter. That was just fine by Kuhlen.

“We know one way to play, and you could see it there at the end that we don’t like to slow it down too much,” said Kuhlen. “They were up in our shorts in the fourth quarter, and that puts heat on you.”

Harris led all scorers with 25 points. Bartels picked up an impressive double-double with his 22-point, 10-rebound performance. West chipped in 9 points in the game.

 

Wauneta-Palisade earns Sportsmanship Award

At the conclusion of the championship game against Giltner, WP Superintendent Stan Sibley was joined by Wau-Pal seniors in receiving this year’s Sportsmanship Award for the state basketball tournament.

The award, which is voted on by NSAA officials, is the fourth in the history of Bronco athletics, and the first since the 2007 boys state basketball tournament.

According to WP Principal Troy Holmberg, NSAA officials notified the school that they had won the award with time left in the championship game against Giltner. Normally, the award isn’t given out until after the conclusion of the consolation game that follows.

Holmberg said he was told by the officials that it was mathematically impossible for the other teams to score as many sportsmanship points as WP had already racked up .

“I think we have really good kids here,” said Holmberg. “The NSAA monitored our bench and our main fan section, but most of the scoring is based on our student section. Our kids did a real good job.”