Patterson: Late rally pushes Elkhorn South over South Sioux City, into state tournament

The South Sioux City loss means that two-time All-Nebraska guard McKenna Sims (11) won’t be a part of the state tournament her senior year. She finishes her career with 1,447 points, No. 3 in school history

Life is about overcoming obstacles, and Elkhorn South overcame several to reach the state tournament.

Consider these factors working against the Storm heading into Saturday night’s B-8 district final at South Sioux City:

  • Elkhorn South was coming off an emotional triple-overtime loss to Elkhorn three days earlier in the subdistrict final.
  • The Storm would be facing the Cardinals on their home court, the Mini Dome — one of the most intimidating venues in the state.
  • Because of a previously scheduled 200-team youth tournament at the site, the game would be starting three to five hours after the other Class B district finals.
  • The snow made travel difficult, limiting the number of Elkhorn South fans making the 180-mile round trip.

Despite that, the Storm defeated South Sioux 52-50 to qualify for state. It was the first home loss for the Cardinals, who were seeking their Class B-leading 24th tourney berth.

“I could not have been prouder of my team,” Elkhorn South coach Terry Graver said. “I can’t say enough about the way we battled back.”

It was Graver’s first visit to the Mini Dome, which features a sunken gym floor surrounded on all sides by Cardinal faithful. On the walls are large photos of the school’s 12 state title squads and from the rafters hang the championship banners.

“It’s even more incredible than what I’ve heard people talk about,” the coach said. “It’s just a great venue with so much tradition.”

Teams often can be intimidated before the game starts and that might have been the case Saturday night. The Cardinals jumped to a 9-0 lead and Graver called two timeouts in the first quarter.

“I don’t think I’ve ever done that,” he said. “I just wanted to get us settled down.”

South Sioux led 17-10 after the first quarter and 31-26 at halftime, but the Storm grabbed a 43-41 advantage entering the fourth quarter. The Cardinals then fought back to take a six-point lead with 1:30 left.

Three-pointers by Reese Baltzell and Cami Small tied the game and late free throws by Madison Hill and Rylee Gray put the Storm on top. Hill then blocked a shot with 1.5 seconds left to clinch the victory.

Graver said a switch defensively in the second half helped fuel the comeback.

“They were ripping up our 2-3 zone,” he said. “We switched to man to man and contested their 3-point shooters.”

The 6-foot-4 Gray, a Nebraska volleyball recruit, led the Storm with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Baltzell and Leah Wamsley each finished with eight points.

After the photos were taken of the victorious team, there was one more major obstacle to overcome — getting home.

“The snow had gotten pretty bad and it took us more than three hours,” Graver said. “But the trip would have been a lot more painful if we’d have lost.”

Now Elkhorn South, like the other state-qualifying Class B teams, will have several days to prepare for the tourney that begins Feb. 28.

“It was an exciting and emotional night,” Graver said. “But now we need to refocus and look ahead.”

Sims’ standout career ends

The South Sioux City loss means that two-time All-Nebraska guard McKenna Sims won’t be a part of the state tournament her senior year.

She finishes her career with 1,447 points, No. 3 in school history behind Katie Robinette (1,944) and Trish Martin (1,718). The Illinois State recruit had 522 career rebounds, 495 assists and 373 steals.

Sims also is a childhood leukemia survivor who is an inspiration to all who know her.

I’ll miss seeing her play at state but wish her all the best in the future.

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Ratings update

Losses last week by the previous No. 1 teams in Class A and Class B — Millard North and Crete — open the door for the No. 2 teams to move up.

Lincoln East is the new No. 1 in Class A following the Mustangs’ home loss to Omaha Benson. The Spartans have won eight in a row and 12 of 13 entering districts.

Seward moved to the top spot after Crete’s home loss to Norris in subdistricts. The Bluejays also have won eight straight but survived a close call in their district final Saturday against Norris, prevailing 47-46.

Benson slides into the Top 10 after posting a road win over Millard North. The Bunnies replace Wahoo, which suffered its first loss against Wahoo Neumann in a Class C-1 subdistrict final.

Since district play is still going on in C and D, there will no ratings this week in those classes. All classes will be ranked before the state tournament.

Just missed trip to state

Though the team won’t be going to state, here’s a salute to coach Mark Hagerman and his Norris Titans.

Norris defeated Crete in subdistricts and came within a point of Seward in the district final. Hagerman is an outstanding coach who always gets the most out of his team, though it just wasn’t quite enough this year.

While the Class B districts finished up on Saturday, there are still many more district games this week.

Class A semifinals will be contested Tuesday and the finals Thursday. All district finals in Classes C and D will be played Friday.

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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