LINCOLN — Emerson-Hubbard clinched a spot in the championship game for the first time since 1996 with a 52-43 victory over Fullerton on Friday morning in the Class D-1 semifinals at the Devaney Center.
The second-rated Pirates (27-1) will face No. 5 Howells-Dodge in Saturday’s 9 a.m. title game at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Emerson-Hubbard’s last state championship in girls basketball came in 1989 when it won Class C-2.
“Of course, none of these girls were even born the last time this school played in the state finals, but they’re excited,” Emerson-Hubbard coach Troy Haberman said. “The community just loves basketball and they’re behind us, so we can’t wait for the game.”
The Pirates got off to a good start in the semifinals, thanks to big quarters from their two leading scorers. Senior guard Abby Drieling had nine first-quarter points on her way to a 15-point game, while fellow senior guard Payton Blanke hit for nine second-quarter points and finished with a game-high 22 on the strength of a 9-of-16 performance at the foul line.
“You always hope that one of our two major scorers kind of get started,” Haberman said. “Abby can always take it inside, so that helps a lot — it’s kind of a double-threat thing.”
Emerson-Hubbard shot just well enough at the foul line to keep Fullerton at bay. After two free throws by Macy Peregrine cut the Warriors’ deficit to 46-38 with 4:05 to play, the Pirates were 6 of 12 at the line in the final 3:37 to hold on.
Fullerton (25-2) was hampered by nine first-quarter turnovers and committed 14 in the game. The Warriors hit 2 of 9 shots in the first quarter and shot 32 percent (16 of 50) overall.
“(Emerson-Hubbard) is a real physical team, and I think that it’s an adjustment,” Fullerton coach Stacy Kramer said. “We took too long to adjust to that, and once we did, I think we were in a good spot, but we dug ourselves into a hole so early. Against a good team, it makes things difficult.
“Usually, we’re the one who have the quick start, and we didn’t today.”
Fullerton’s chances appeared to take a major hit with 6:24 remaining in the second quarter as leading scorer and rebounder Halle Plumbtree went down with a right knee injury and had to be helped off the floor. However, the 6-foot-3 junior center returned with 2:05 left in the second quarter and led the Warriors with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Though she had yet to speak with a trainer, Kramer said she thought Plumbtree hyperextended her right knee. Her status for Fullerton’s third-place game at 11 a.m. Saturday at Lincoln North Star is uncertain.
Regardless, Kramer said, Fullerton wants to finish its season strong.
“Our season’s not done,” Kramer said. “I said, ‘Let’s go out on a positive note (Saturday).’ They’re a tremendous group of girls and, of course, they’re upset right now.
“This isn’t where they wanted to be, and they’re a good group of competitors, but their season is not over with and third place in the state isn’t too bad. That’s our goal.”
Emerson-Hubbard (27-1).......14 13 14 11—52
Fullerton (25-2)....................... 5 12 12 14—43
EH: Abby Drieling 15, Morgan Hansen 4, Skyler Miller 2, Ashley Bokemper 7, Payton Blanke 22, Kylie Belt 2.
F: Cheyenne Ostrander 10, Macy Peregrine 8, Ashley Frenzen 6, Katie Voichahoske 1, Halle Plumbtree 16, Spencer Herman 2.
Officials: Thomas, Pierzina, Hempel.