Kyle Luedtke answered the question about pressure and Creighton Prep being the Class A favorite all season with the same calm and confidence he had burying three-pointers during the state tournament.
“We never really felt any pressure all year,” was the 6-foot-5 senior’s response in the press conference after the Junior Jays defeated Bellevue West 56-46 to win the school’s 13th boys state basketball title and the third under coach Josh Luedtke, his father.
“I’m glad these guys didn’t feel any pressure because I felt a lot of pressure,” Coach Luedtke said, laughing. “I had to hide it from these guys all season, but it was there.”
After surviving a three-overtime thriller against Lincoln Pius X in the first round, Prep was back to its dominating ways, taking out Omaha Bryan 63-48 in the semifinals on Friday before a 15-0 fourth quarter run allowed the Junior Jays to pull away late in the finals against the Thunderbirds.
“They were determined to enforce their will all three games down here,” Coach Luedtke said. “When we lost to (eventual state champion) Norfolk last year, we told our guys, 'That should be us and that will be us.’ Everyone bought in during the offseason to work hard and get better.”
Kyle Luedtke was one of four seniors who played a major role on this year’s Junior Jay squad, with 6-7 forward Jayden Temme and 5-7 guard Spencer Moes also starting, and 6-2 football all-stater Grant Matthies coming off the bench.
Prep will bring back two of the best juniors in the state in 6-2 point guard Jaylin Hunter and 6-6 post Akol Arop, in addition to 6-3 junior Thomas Faber, who missed the state tournament because of a broken wrist.
“The sky’s the limit for these guys next year,” Kyle Luedtke said. “They should be able to do it again.”
Bellevue West should also be in a position to contend with only three seniors on this year’s team. The Thunderbirds bring back one of the best backcourt combinations in the state in freshman guard Chucky Hepburn (who’s getting recruiting attention from Nebraska and Creighton) and junior Nico Felici.
Through all the upsets, near-upsets, overtimes and buzzer-beaters this weekend, programs accustomed to being on the big stage ultimately came out on top.
With a team full of football players who hoisted a state championship trophy in Memorial Stadium last November, York moved its March celebration a few blocks away to Pinnacle Bank Arena as the Dukes willed their way to a double overtime win over Omaha Skutt in the Class B final.
Wahoo, last year’s state runner-up in Class C-1, traded in its silver for gold. Ponca won its second straight C-2 title, while Lourdes Central Catholic pulled off the three-peat in D-1. Falls City Sacred Heart won its first D-2 boys basketball title in 10 years, but it was the school’s ninth crown since 1988, all under Coach Doug Goltz.
Led by junior standout Brady Danielson, underclassmen scored 59 of the York’s 61 points on Saturday. Skutt’s top two scorers against the Dukes were 6-3 sophomore guard Tyson Gordon and 5-11 junior Jake Kudron with 15 points each.
But don’t pencil in a Skutt-York rematch in next year’s state final quite yet. Unless it decides to opt up to Class A, Pius X will be Class B in boys basketball next season in its first year in the Heartland Athletic Conference. Juniors Charlie Easley, Joe Dworak and Austin Jablonski as well as sophomore Kolbe Rada make the Thunderbolts a threat in Class A or B.
If Pius X does not opt up, it will become the first school in Heartland Conference history to compete in Class B in any sport. Lincoln East’s enrollment fell enough in the mid-1990s to make the Spartans a Class B school for one year, but they elected to opt up to Class A in every sport.
Wahoo graduates a strong senior class, but juniors Winston Cook and Blake Lacey came off the bench to score 19 and 12 points, respectively, in the win over Winnebago.
“We lose a ton, but those two (Cook and Lacey) are a good place to start,” Wahoo coach Kevin Scheef said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys waiting in the wings ready to step up.”