Class A: Lauren West's double-double helps Millard North win program's first state hoops crown

Millard North's Lexi Kraft, left, and Jayna Green, right, hug each other after beating Lincoln Southwest in the Class A championship game of the Nebraska girls state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday, March 2, 2019.

LINCOLN — Forgetting the center-court postgame dogpile was about the only misstep Saturday night for Millard North, which won its first girls basketball title.

Senior guard Lauren West poured in 31 points to lift the top-ranked Mustangs to a 62-52 victory over Lincoln Southwest in the Class A final at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The victory came one night after Millard North survived a triple-overtime semifinal against Lincoln Pius X.

“I’m just so proud of this team,” Millard North coach Dave Diehl said. “It’s crazy to think of the journey that we’ve been on.”

The Mustangs received a huge boost from West, who was held to two points Friday night. She was 6 of 8 from the field and 18 of 19 from the foul line.

She missed her first foul shot then rattled off 18 straight, just short of the state tourney record of 20 converted free throws.

“After scoring two last night, I knew this was going to be my last game,” she said. “I had to bring it and leave it all on the court.”

The Mustangs led 12-11 after the first quarter but took charge in the second, outscoring the Silver Hawks 23-6. They finished the half on a 13-0 run that began after a 360-degree reverse layup by Nicole Avila-Ambrosi that brought the Millard North fans to their feet.

“That was pretty cool,” Avila-Ambrosi said. “I just threw it up there and it went in.”

Five players contributed during that 13-point stretch. That included a layup from sophomore Kaylee Kessler, whose last-second putback and free throw in the second overtime Friday kept the Mustangs’ season alive.

“I was hoping they might have a little fatigue hangover from last night,” Southwest coach Jeff Rump said. “But they smacked us in the mouth.”

Diehl said that second quarter was the difference in the game.

“The first quarter we kind of hung in there,” he said. “But that second quarter was a blitz.”

The Silver Hawks fought back in the third quarter to get within eight. They could get no closer than seven in the final period.

“We picked up our intensity on defense but we couldn’t quite get there,” Rump said. “And shooting 50 percent from the line (14 of 28) isn’t going to win a lot of games.”

West helped the Mustangs stay ahead with 13 fourth-quarter points. The 80 percent free-throw shooter was 9 of 9 from the line in that final period as the Mustangs went 23 of 26 for the game.

When the final buzzer sounded, the Millard North players embraced in front of their bench. Diehl went to the stands and gave his wife a hug.

“We knew it was going to take heart to win this game,” Diehl said. “We talk all the time about toughness and perseverance, and I think you saw that tonight.”

Avila-Ambrosi finished with 13 for the Mustangs, who shot 46 percent from the field and 88 percent from the line.

Millard North also won the rebounding battle 35-27. West led the team with 13 and had a double-double by halftime.

Jaden Ferguson led the Silver Hawks with 16 points. That performance tied her with Lauren Works for the school scoring record.

But in the Class A final Saturday night, that wasn’t enough.

“To bring the school its first title is indescribable,” West said. “I’m so proud of my teammates.”

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Millard North (23-4)..............11 23    7 21—62

Lincoln Southwest (22-5)......12    6 13 21—52

MN: Lexi Kraft 1-5 2-2 5, Lauren West 6-8 18-19 31, Nicole Avila-Ambrosi 5-9 2-3 13, Jayna Green 2-6 0-0 4, Asia Bryant 0-5 1-2 1, Elle Danley 1-2 0-0 2, Kaylee Kessler 3-4 0-0 6.

LSW: Emma Kauf 2-6 1-2 7, Emerson Barada 0-2 0-0 0, Jaden Ferguson 4-9 8-12 16, Hannah Kelle 5-12 1-3 12, Raegan Wells 1-3 1-6 3, Katie Carpenter 0-4 0-0 0, Skylar Pieper 3-5 0-0 7, Kate Dilsaver 2-6 3-5 7.

3-point goals: MN 3-11 (Kraft 1-3, West 1-2, Avila-Ambrosi 1-1, Green 0-3, Bryant 0-1, Danley 0-1). LSW 4-17 (Kauf 2-4, Barada 0-2, Ferguson 0-1, Kelle 1-4, Carpenter 0-2, Pieper 1-3, Dilsaver 0-1). Team fouls: MN 21; LSW 20. Turnovers: MN 16; LSW 8. Field-goal percentage: MN .462; LSW .362. Free-throw percentage: MN .885; LSW .500.

Mike covers high school sports, primarily volleyball in the fall, girls basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring and summer. He also reports on horse racing for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @MPattersonOWH. Phone: 402-444-1350.

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