LINCOLN — In a game full of runs, Howells-Dodge saved its final sprint for last Friday to earn a 47-44 victory over Ponca in the C-2 semifinals.
Howells-Dodge is back in a championship after finishing as 2016’s D-1 runner-up. The Jaguars (24-3) face Diller-Odell in Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. title game at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
In Friday’s game at the Devaney Center, the Jaguars put together a 10-0 run in the third quarter to flip a 28-21 deficit into a 31-21 lead after the Indians opened the second half by scoring the first five points.
Howells-Dodge coach Scott Polacek called a timeout when the deficit got to seven to reset a few things.
“We just had to do a better job of taking care of the ball,” Polacek said. “We threw it away a couple of times. We switched defense on them a little bit again. We went to a 2-3 again because they were getting a little bit too much penetration.”
Early in the fourth quarter, Ponca regained the lead 35-33, only to see Howells-Dodge score seven straight for a 40-35 edge with 3:39 remaining. The Indians (22-5) tied the game one last time at 44-44 before the Jaguars clinched the win with the last three free throws of the game, which turned into a free-throw exhibition: Both teams had one field goal apiece in the final eight minutes.
Ponca was 12 of 15 from the line, and its field goal was a put-back with 1:11 left by Elizabeth Watchorn, who finished with a game-high 14 points.
Howells-Dodge made 11 of 16 free throws and got a 3-pointer from the left wing by Macey Kulhanek early in the fourth. Kulhanek and Samantha Brester led the Jaguars with 12 points apiece.
“We did a lot better job in the second half just taking care of the ball, one person on one person,” Polacek said.
In an even first half, the game was tied three times, there were seven lead changes and neither team led by more than four — the Jaguars were up 6-2 in the opening minutes.
Howells-Dodge trailed only once and went into the second quarter with a 12-11 lead. The second quarter was a back-and-forth affair that eventually ended with Ponca taking a 23-21 lead to the intermission.
Ponca coach Bob Hayes, who is in his first season after replacing Brady Starkweather, said the Indians were disappointed in the setback but started smiling after he reminded them there was one more to play — Saturday’s 9 a.m. third-place game against Ravenna at Lincoln Southwest.
“The silver lining of this is we get another game to play together,” Hayes said. “We’ll go out, get them something to eat tonight, keep smiling, show up at 9 o’clock and play another ballgame.”
Howells-Dodge (24-3).......12 9 12 14—47
Ponca (22-5)....................11 12 7 14—44
HD: Chelsea Bayer 4, Emily Ritzdorf 2, Kalli Brester 2, Samantha Brester 12, Tessa Brester 2, Macey Kulhanek 12, Erin Prusa 3.
P: Elizabeth Watchorn 14, Emma Kneifl 10, Grace Salmen 6, Rachel Bentz 2, Abigail VanDyke 6, Taylor Lamprecht 6.