O'NEILL — Looking for evidence that postseason basketball is second-to-none?
File Clearwater-Orchard's 63-59 overtime win over Ainsworth in Class C2-10 subdistrict play here Tuesday as exhibit A.
In front of an amped-up, overflow crowd at O'Neill High School, top-seeded Ainsworth flipped a 27-5 first-half deficit with a 17-2 run that gave it a 51-46 lead with just under three minutes left. But the fourth-seeded Cyclones scored the final five points of regulation, never trailed in overtime and hung on for the win.
"They came full-throttle. They knew what they had to do. We haven't really been in sync this season, but I guess it's better late than never," Clearwater-Orchard coach Shelly Mlnarik said. "Everybody was on the same page, and I think they've got a new focus."
That focus was key over the final three minutes of regulation and in the extra period as the Cyclones managed to seal the win by making seven of their final nine free throws after hitting just 12 of 25 to start the game. Senior Jagger Smith, who led Clearwater-Orchard with 17 points, was 4 of 4 at the line in overtime.
He scored his team's final eight points to counter a pair of deep 3s by Ainsworth's Brady Delimont after the Cylcones had stretched their lead to 59-53 in the final minute.
"This time of year, it doesn't matter what the records are. It's about who wants it more and, the thing about it is, nobody has anything to lose," Ainsworth coach Brian Delimont said. "They played like that early on and got us down 20, then our kids did a good job battling back. We just came up a little short."
Andy Kerkman's baseline layup to force overtime with 1:11 left in regulation was one of the reasons the Bulldogs came up short. The 6-foot-8 senior had, moments earlier, connected on a pair of attempts at the line after hitting just three of his first 10 attempts.
The struggles at the line didn't do much to minimize Kerkman's impact on the game. The Augustana recruit — who became the state's all-time leading rebounder last week — added 19 rebounds, six assists and six blocked shots to his 15 points.
But contributions came from all over for Clearwater-Orchard, with both Travis Kerkman (16 points) and Blake Kester (13) scoring in double figures. The duo combined for 21 first-half points, with Kester burying three first-quarter 3s to spark a 20-2 run that led to a 27-5 lead with 5:28 left in the second quarter.
"It was huge to have every kid step up. I told them in the locker room, even watching our bench sit there arm-in-arm — that is what being a team is all about, being excited for each other and everybody stepping up," Mlnarik said. "We kind of melted just a bit when they made that run, but our kids got it going back in the right direction."
With Delimont taking control, Ainsworth cut its deficit to 10 by halftime. The state's all-time leader in 3-pointers, Delimont knocked down six — including three in the final four minutes of the first half to push his career total to 317.
He finished with a game-high 32 points while adding eight assists. Austin Harthoorn added 10 points for Ainsworth, which is still in mathematical contention for a wild card to state at 18-6.
"Brady did a great job," Brian Delimont said. "We had a real slow start, scoring only five points in the first 10 minutes. Then we did a whale of a job battling back to get where we were. We told the kids they have nothing to hang their heads about."
Clearwater-Orchard improved to 16-9 and will meet West Holt in Thursday's final.
The Huskies defeated Burwell 62-40, outscoring the Longhorns 42-18 in the second half after trailing 22-20 at halftime. Aaron Seger led West Holt with 19 points, including six-straight in a fourth-quarter run that put the game out of reach.
Mason Hale added 17 points for West Holt, with Riley Bilstein scoring 14 and Bryce Kerkman finishing with 10 to move the Huskies into their third meeting with Clearwater-Orchard this season. The first two contest both went to West Holt, a 60-47 win on Jan. 8 and a 64-52 win on Feb. 5.
"We have to turn around and focus immediately. It's great that we won, but we've seen West Holt twice. And they've stuck it to us twice," Mlnarik said. "We've got a lot of things to get figured out before Thursday night."
Clearwater-Orchard (16-9)...................21 12 11 7 12 — 63
Ainsworth (17-6)..................................5 18 9 17 8 — 59
CO: Zach Martin 1-4 0-1 2, Andy Kerkman 5-12 5-13 15, Blake Kester 4-11 2-5 13, Jagger Smith 5-8 7-8 17, Travis Kerkman 5-9 5-7 16. Totals 20-44 19-34 63.
A: Payton Allen 2-6 0-2 6, Austin Harthoorn 4-7 1-2 10, Brady Delimont 12-30 2-4 32, Luke Mcleod 2-8 2-2 6, Ben Allen 0-0 3-4 3, Matt Kovar 1-3 0-0 2, Dusty Worden 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-55 8-14 59.
3-point field goals: C-O 4-8 (Kester 3-5, T. Kerkman 1-1); AIN 9-23 (Delimont 6-9, P. Allen 2-6, Harthoorn 1-3). Rebounds: C-O 31 (A. Kerkman 19, T. Kerkman 5, Smith 4); AIN 27 (Mcleod 9, B. Allen 6, Delimont 5). Assists: C-O 11 (A. Kerkman 6, Kester 2, Smith 2); AIN 8 (Delimont 8). Steals: C-O 8 (Martin 2, Kester 2, Smith 2); AIN 4 (Harthoorn 3). Blocked shots: C-O 6 (Kerkman 6); AIN 5 (Mcleod 5).
* * *
West Holt (18-7).................................13 7 17 25 — 62
Burwell (16-6)....................................8 14 6 12 — 40
WH: Bryce Kerkman 10; Mason Hale 17; Riley Bilstein 14; Devon Dohrman 2; Aaron Seger 19.