After covering so many girls basketball games in a season, they often can become a blur.
But Saturday night’s game in Fremont between the host Tigers and Millard West is one I’ll remember for some time.
It was going to be a special night at the 2,000-seat Al Bahe Gym for three reasons. The game was a key matchup between two of the top teams in Class A, Fremont’s Jessica Shepard was very close to breaking a state record and the game was going to draw a big crowd as a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness.
The doors opened at 3 p.m. for the 5:45 game, and fans weren’t waiting until the last minute. That led to perhaps one of the biggest crowds ever for a junior varsity contest, played before the varsity game.
Spotlights blazed in front of the gym to alert everyone something special was happening inside. Shepard’s father, Mark — associate superintendent of the Fremont Public Schools — was among the people selling pink programs for $1 each.
After scoring 34 points on Friday night against Lincoln High, Jessica needed four points Saturday night to break the Class A single-season scoring mark. She entered the game with 611 points, three short of the 614 scored by Omaha Central’s Maurtice Ivy in 1984.
It seemed everyone wanted to attend the game. My wife, Beth, a Fremont High grad who played on one of the Tigers’ state tournament basketball teams, was sitting next to me.
Emotions ran high in the crowded gym as the game began. Shepard sank a layup to close within a point of the record, and then made another with 3:23 left in the first quarter to break it.
Before the second quarter started, Shepard’s achievement was announced and she received a standing ovation. Then, it was back to the game.
The Wildcats led by two at halftime but the Tigers opened a five-point lead by the end of the third quarter. Millard West tied the game 50-50 with 4:40 left but Fremont went on a 17-3 run the rest of the way — the team received a standing ovation in the final 30 seconds — to post an emotional 67-53 victory.
Shepard, a Nebraska recruit who leads the state in scoring with a 30-point average, finished with 32. After the game, Millard West coach Kip Colony kiddingly mentioned that he needed to chat with Huskers coach Connie Yori about the 6-foot-3 junior forward.
“I think Connie should talk to Jess about graduating early,” he said. “And I’ll pack her bags for her.”
Looking at the bigger picture, it was a memorable game between two outstanding teams. Congratulations to Shepard for setting the record, and to Fremont Athletic Director Bill Fitzgerald for putting on a special night that won’t be forgotten.
District pairings: The Class A district pairings will be released Tuesday, with the top seven teams in wild-card points earning the right to host.
Bellevue West, Omaha Benson, Fremont, Lincoln Northeast and Millard West all appear to have host slots locked up. Things get a little muddled after that because of Bellevue East’s overtime win Saturday night over Northeast.
Unofficially, it appears the Chieftains have moved into the No. 6 spot and South Sioux City will be the No. 7. Omaha Westside, which had been in line to be a host team as the No. 7, moves down to No. 8 and will play at South Sioux in the A-7 District.
“That’s the way it looks right now,” Warriors coach Steve Clark said. “It would have been nice to host, but that Bellevue East win changed everything.”
All eyes on C1-10: Something has to give this week in Class C-1 when the only two unbeaten teams left in the state — 22-0 Minden and 23-0 Kearney Catholic — compete as part of the five-team subdistrict at Kearney High School.
The Whippets will play Tuesday night against the winner of Monday’s Broken Bow-Gibbon game. The Stars will play later Tuesday night against 17-7 Centura. If both teams stay unbeaten, they’ll play Thursday night for the subdistrict title.
Ratings update: Omaha Benson remains the overall No. 1 after wins over Bellevue East and Omaha North. Bellevue West climbs to No. 2, followed by Fremont, Millard West and Class C-1 No. 1 Minden.
Class C-2 No. 1 Crofton checks in at No. 6, followed by Northeast, Class B No. 1 Lincoln Pius X, Lincoln Southwest and C-1 No. 2 Kearney Catholic.
All six ratings classes are running in Monday editions of The World-Herald this week because of the start of subdistricts Monday night.