O’NEILL, Neb. — Any hopes that Elgin/Pope John had in knocking off Class D-2 No. 3 O’Neill St. Mary’s faced a tall roadblock on Friday night.
Sydney Hupp provided that roadblock, sometimes literally.
The 6-foot senior finished with 29 points and blocked six shots as the Cardinals turned away Elgin/Pope John 58-40 in their Niobrara Valley Conference game.
“Sydney has really let the game come to her,” O’Neill St. Mary’s coach Traci Berg said. “She put herself in position to score that many points.
“She’s just a threat on the floor. She’s a threat defensively. She’s a threat offensively. And, she’s a great kid.”
Hupp described her performance matter-of-factly afterward.
“It just kind of happened,” she said. “We knew we had to play the inside-out game. I was in the right spot, and my teammates got the ball to me.”
Twenty-two of those points came in a dizzying first half. With steady snow flurries outside at tipoff, the teams had a flurry of their own in the first quarter, as St. Mary’s led 25-16 after eight minutes. They expanded their lead to 41-28 at intermission.
But only St. Mary’s could hold that pace in the second half.
It held the Wolfpack to seven points in the first 15 minutes of the second half, and led by as much as 23 in the fourth quarter.
“I think, mainly, we ran. We pushed the ball,” Berg said. “We upped our defense. We kept coming at them. We ran them, and they got tired.”
The Wolfpack were held to 30.9 percent (17 of 55) shooting, including 23.3 percent (7 of 30) in the second half.
“We couldn’t find a rhythm,” Wolfpack coach Randy Eisenhauer said. “We did not get out and run like we wanted.”
The Cardinals were able to keep up a relentless pressure defense to fuel their offense throughout the night because of their depth.
Ten players took at least one shot, and nine of them scored points Friday.
“We play 10 deep,” Berg said. “Our goal is to run as much as possible and sub in and out.”
Foul trouble marred this one from virtually the get-go for EPPJ.
Jenna Parks, who Eisenhauer said was his team’s best player, was whistled for two fouls in the game’s first 43 seconds. Another starter, Liz Selting, picked up her second less than a minute later.
“In the first quarter, they were almost in the double bonus,” he said. “We had two starters out before the 6½-minute mark ... and we got down 10 in the first quarter.
“I think that’s what was the game right here. I thought we played with a good defensive effort, though.”
O’Neill St. Mary’s has now won three straight games since losing consecutive contests to Class C-1 No. 4 Pierce and Norfolk Catholic.
“Those losses will help us down the road,” Berg said. “We learned we have to be aggressive at all times. Playing up a couple of classes can only help us in conference play. It makes us stronger.”