BEATRICE — Meridian girls basketball coach Robert Schropfer told his team during a timeout it needed to cut Exeter-Milligan’s lead to five by the end of the third quarter Friday to have a chance to advance.
Back-to-back three-point plays by Exeter-Milligan put the Class D-1 No. 1 Mustangs in a nine-point hole during the MUDECAS A Division semifinals at Beatrice City Auditorium.
Meridian responded to Schropfer’s challenge, cutting the Timberwolves’ lead to four points entering the final eight minutes. And then the Mustangs had an even bigger response in charging to a 46-37 win.
The Mustangs trailed 33-24 with 1:55 remaining in the third before closing the game on a 22-4 run.
“I challenged the girls,” Schropfer said of his third-quarter timeout. “I said, 'It’s gut-check (time) right now.' They were hanging their head and I said we got to cut this to a five-point ballgame before the start of the fourth quarter, and I’ll be darn if they didn’t respond.”
Meridian defeated the No. 2 team in Class D-2 to reach the MUDECAS final for a second straight year. Now the Mustangs will play Class D-2’s top team, Falls City Sacred Heart, in Saturday’s championship. It's a rematch of last year's final won by FCSH in overtime.
Like Meridian, Sacred Heart had to rally in its semifinal. The Irish trailed by 10 to Class D-1 No. 3 BDS before prevailing in overtime 49-43.
Meridian quickly trimmed Exeter-Milligan’s lead to four on a three-pointer from Josie Sobotka, and a steal and layup from Erin Johnson just before the end of the third quarter. Johnson had 14 points.
Meridian (13-0) took a 36-33 lead on Jacie Sobotka’s three with 6:27 remaining, and the Mustangs never let go of the lead.
Kate Jansky had 20 points for the Timberwolves, who were hampered by foul trouble.
“The big thing was we came out, we wanted to play tough against them, be the tougher team,” Exeter-Milligan coach Jackson Krejci said. “We felt like we had the size advantage, but we got into a little bit of foul trouble, which threw us off chemistrywise. In the second half, Meridian definitely keyed on our shooters a little bit more. They cranked it up defensively.”
Sacred Heart jumped to an early lead against BDS, but the Eagles’ zone defense forced 12 first-half turnovers. Sacred Heart also was held without a field goal in the second quarter.
BDS (11-2) extended the lead to 10 by the end of the third quarter before the Irish switched to a man defense. That sparked the Irish rally, and FCSH took a 38-37 lead on McKenzie Witt’s steal and layup with 1:10 remaining.
BDS tied it at 39-39 and nearly won the game in regulation, but Regan Alfs' putback rattled in and out at the buzzer.
Sacred Heart’s Randee Witt hit a two-pointer to begin overtime, and Emily Wertenberger was 6-of-6 from the free-throw line during the extra session.
Saturday's final will be a matchup of Meridian's quickness and shooting (Schropfer says he has six players who can shoot threes), and Sacred Heart's size and defensive pressure.
"They’re really good on the perimeter," FCSH coach Luke Santos said of the Mustangs. "We know they are athletic from their volleyball success."