AURORA — A dominant fourth-quarter performance put Adams Central back where it wants to be.
The No. 2-rated (Omaha World-Herald) Patriots used a late 12-0 scoring run to pull away for a 42-27 victory over Grand Island Central Catholic in the Class C-1, District 7 final Monday night at Aurora High School. The win was a school-record 22nd for Adams Central (22-4) and advanced coach Zac Foster’s team to the state tournament for the second consecutive season and the third time in four years.
Making their eighth tournament appearance, the Patriots will be bidding for their first-ever win at state. Foster said his team has made significant strides since last year’s first-round loss in Class B to eventual champion Elkhorn South.
"I don’t think you can be afraid to say it: A big goal of ours is to be the first team from AC that wins a game down there (in Lincoln)," Foster said. "It was a big goal last year and we came up short.
"I think we learned a lot, playing a state championship team in Elkhorn South and it was a big motivation this summer."
Lucas Goldenstein led Adams Central in the C1-5 final with 11 points and five rebounds. Kyler Wormstadt and David Bohlen added eight points apiece for the Patriots, who outscored GICC 14-3 at the free-throw line.
After Crusader junior Aidan Anspauch’s jumper in the lane cut Adams Central’s lead to 27-23 with 6:48 to play, the Patriots outscored GICC 15-4 the rest of the way. That included 9-of-12 shooting from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, sinking 9 of 10 free-throw attempts in the final 3:04.
Foster said implementing a game-closing strategy he learned while coaching with current Heartland Lutheran head coach Rick Rath paid off for Adams Central down the stretch.
"We spread the floor and started driving the ball," Foster said. "I’ll give Coach Rath some credit because I coached with him for nine years and kind of what we went to at the end was Coach Rath’s baby as far as spreading the floor, doing a dribble-weave handoff and attacking in the fourth quarter.
"We went to that and were able to spread them out and get to the foul line. … We started driving and getting to the rim and I thought that was really big."
GICC coach Tino Martinez credited the Patriots on their execution.
"That was a nice adjustment by Zac and that really made us make the decision of whether we were going to try to take away the paint or the perimeter," Martinez said. "That’s tough to do against them."
A pair of scoring droughts helped thwart the upset bid for the Crusaders.
After cutting its deficit to 19-15 with three minutes left in the second quarter, GICC went scoreless for 5:39. And after closing to within 27-23, the Crusaders were held without a point for 4:49 as Adams Central extended its advantage to 39-23 with 2:02 remaining.
"We were getting enough defensive stops, but we couldn’t make them pay," Martinez said. "That’s a credit to Adams Central, obviously. Their trap was giving us some fits and we weren’t turning it over like we did the first time we played them, but we just weren’t getting it into the attack zone good enough.
"Again, it had a little bit to do with us missing some shots and it had a lot to do with Adams Central’s defensive scheme."
Mayra Almarya scored 11 points to lead GICC, which finished its season 13-13. Anspauch added seven points, five rebounds and three assists for the Crusaders.
After graduating nine seniors from last year’s team that placed third in the Class C-1 state tournament, GICC returned to a district final with a postseason roster that included just three seniors. All five Crusader starters are expected to be back next season.
"Everyone outside of our locker room might have had their doubts about us all season long, but we just talked since the first day about playing in this game with a chance to go to Lincoln," Martinez said. "The appreciation I have for our players right now is so great because they were willing to do the work. This doesn’t just happen magically — you’ve got to be willing to do the work and they are.
"We weren’t perfect. I would’ve liked to have improved a little more offensively, but I think our effort and attitude allowed us to get as far as we did and improve on a daily basis."
Adams Central 42, GICC 27
ADAMS CENTRAL (22-4)
Goldenstein 3-4 5-6 11, Sittner 2-4 3-5 7, Pleak 2-5 0-0 5, Wormstadt 1-5 6-7 8, Bohlen 3-7 0-0 8, Nelson 1-4 0-0 3, Keller 0-1 0-0 0, LeBar 0-0 0-0 0, Grimmett 0-0 0-0 0, Eckhardt 0-0 0-0 0, Anderson 0-0 0-0 0, Birky 0-0 0-0 0, Kiolbasa 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 12-30 14-18 42.
Anspauch 3-10 0-0 7, Wenzl 2-2 0-0 4, Toner 0-1 0-0 0, Goering 1-7 0-0 3, Almarya 4-7 3-6 11, R.Bernal 1-4 0-0 2, N.Bernal 0-1 0-0 0, Anderson 0-0 0-0 0, A.Herbek 0-0 0-0 0, Bales 0-0 0-0 0, J.Herbek 0-0 0-0 0, Stevenson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 11-32 3-6 27.
Adams Central 10 9 8 15—42
GICC 6 9 6 6—27
3-point goals—AC 4-12 (Sittner 0-1, Pleak 1-2, Wormstadt 0-2, Bohlen 2-4, Nelson 1-2, Keller 0-1), GICC 2-16 (Anspauch 1-7, Goering 1-6, R.Bernal 0-2, N.Bernal 0-1). Fouled out—None. Rebounds—AC 22 (Goldenstein 5, Wormstadt 5), GICC 21 (Anspauch 5). Assists—AC 7 (Bohlen 3), GICC 5 (Anspauch 3). Turnovers—AC 9, GICC 11. Total fouls—AC 10, GICC 16. Technicals—None. A—NA.