NORFOLK, Neb. — If the Battle Creek boys and Pierce girls seem new to Mid-State Conference tournament trophy ceremonies, it’s because they are.
But after a pair of appropriately highly-competitive championship games Saturday night, the Braves and the Bluejays are conference tournament champions.
Battle Creek, which Braves fans believe last won the championship in 1993, downed Boone Central/Newman Grove 55-48, while the Bluejays’ 45-41 victory over Crofton is their first-ever title.
“It was a great game, a great atmosphere, for a Mid-State championship game,” Battle Creek coach Trevor Anderson said. “We beat these guys (BC/NG) earlier this year, but we knew the second time around was going to be much tougher. They’re a great team, but our guys made a few plays down the stretch, made free throws at the end, secured the boards--I’m proud as heck of these guys.”
In true championship game fashion, the teams exchanged the lead seven times in the first quarter alone, then continued into the second period which produced four tie-scores before Battle Creek (15-5) managed a 27-21 halftime advantage following Bailey McLean’s putback, which became a three-point-play, along with an Andrew Lutt free throw.
However, the Cardinals (14-6) opened the third quarter with a 7-0 run to retake a 28-27 lead, which also returned the game’s pattern of lead exchanges and tie scores — including a 38-38 tie heading into the game’s final period when Battle Creek’s Stone Kraft drained a 3 from the left corner.
The senior also produced his team’s first seven points of the final quarter. After he was fouled while making a transition layup for a three-point play, Kraft added a steal and layup, then finished a fastbreak with a pullup jumper from the wing. After teammate Devon Beckman’s floater on a drive into the lane, the Braves had their largest lead of the game at 47-40 with under five minutes remaining.
“Stone is a special player; he’s really turned into a great senior leader for us, directing traffic out there,” Anderson said. “He knows when to give it up, when to take it to the rim, and when to shoot his jumper. Defensively, he sets the tone for us.”
Dylan Gentrup brought the Cardinals back to within 47-45 on a 3 and a steal-and-layup, but BC/NG managed just three points in the final minute-and-a-half while Beckman scored on a press-breaking assist from McLean before Dylan Mettler and Beckman finished out the 55-48 win by converting both ends of their one-and-one free throw chances.
“In the second half there were a lot of layups where we were giving up points right at the rim; we had to choke that off, so we went to the zone and they were shooting some deep 3s,” Anderson said. “We’ll live with those all day long; that was the key--we got rebounds and they weren’t allowed to come up with second-chance points.”
Kraft totaled 18 points, while Beckman contributed 16 points for the Braves. Meanwhile, BC/NG was paced by 15 points from Jessie Sullivan, 13 points from Gentrup, and 12 from Carter Henry.
In the girls championship game, Pierce finished the first quarter with a 10-0 run to lead 14-4, but Crofton turned the deficit into a 23-18 lead in the second period with a three-point play and two 3s from Jose Sanger, field goals by Ryah Ostermeyer and Lacey Sprakel, and a pair of 3s by Elyssa Tramp.
The Bluejays, however, forced a 23-23 tie at intermission on baskets by Maggie Brahmer and Sidney Zimmerer, along with a free throw by Carly Sutherland.
“They hit some shots from the outside (against our 2-3 zone), and we got in a little foul trouble, but kids coming off the bench did a good job playing and the level not dropping,” Pierce coach Darren Sindelar said.
Two straight field goals and a free throw by Sprakel and another 3 by Sanger put the Warriors up 31-25, but again Pierce finished the quarter with a 33-31 lead on another Brahmer bucket, Sutherland’s three-point-play inside, and a Kayla Simmons 3 from the corner.
The Bluejays clinched their championship by outscoring Crofton 12-10 in the final period, negating six points from Sprakel and four from Sanger with five points from Zimmerer, four from Sutherland, and three more from Brahmer--who also grabbed several important defensive rebounds until leaving late in the game after reinjuring an ankle.
One of Sutherland’s field goals, with just over two minutes remaining, answered Sanger’s last 3 and returned the lead to the Bluejays once and for all as Brahmer scored on a drive and Zimmerer produced the 45-41 final score by making two free throws with 20 seconds remaining.
“Maggie was playing with an ankle she had rolled in the first game of the tournament but really rebounded strong, Sid hit key those key free throws at the end and handled the ball, Brenna Collison worked so hard inside,” Sindelar said.
The 14-7 Bluejays, the No. 6 seed in the tournament, were playing fifth-seeded Crofton just over a week after defeating the Warriors 51-40 — Pierce’s first win over Crofton in about 25 years — and now needing another for a first-ever Mid-State Conference championship.
“At times the play was sloppy, at times the play was really good, but with these two teams playing each other again — eight days apart — the key was, I think we did a pretty good job on the defensive boards, not giving them a lot of second chance opportunities,” Sindelar said. “And we were able to handle their pressure pretty well, too.”
Brahmer’s 16 points led Pierce in scoring, while Sutherland finished with 13 points. For 12-8 Crofton, Sprakel and Sanger finished in double-figures with 17 and 16 points, respectively.
Boone Central/Newman Grove..........10 11 17 10 — 48
Battle Creek 9 18 11 17 — 55
BC/NG: Cody Nelson 1-6 1-1 3, Will Frey 0-5 2-2 2, Carter Henry 5-16 0-0 12, Dylan Gentrup 5-15 1-4 13, Caden Ranslem 1-2 1-3 3, Jessie Sullivan 6-10 3-4 15. Totals: 18-49 8-14 48.
BC: Bailey McLean 4-5 2-3 10, Stone Kraft 8-13 1-1 18, Dylan Mettler 0-2 5-6 5, Devon Beckman 6-18 2-2 16, Zachary Zohner 0-2 1-2 1, Slate Kraft 1-5 0-0 2, Andrew Lutt 1-7 1-2 3. Totals: 20-46 11-15 55.
Pierce girls............14 9 10 12 — 45
Crofton.............4 19 8 10—41
P: Kayla Simmons 2-7 0-0 5, Sidney Zimmerer 2-4 4-4 9, Brenna Collison 1-2 0-1 2, Brianna Aguilera 0-3 0-0 0, Carly Sutherland 5-13 3-5 13, Maggie Brahmer 7-13 2-4 16. Totals: 17-43 9-14 45.
C: Danielle Steffen 0-5 0-0 0, Josie Sanger 5-13 2-3 16, Madisen Kube 0-6 0-0 0, Elyssa Tramp 2-3 0-0 6, Aubree Potts 0-1 0-0 0, Alexis Arens 0-2 0-0 0, Ryah Ostermeyer 1-2 0-0 2, Lacey Sprakel 6-13 5-7 17. Totals: 14-45 7-10 41.