There’s just something about when the Kearney Bearcats and Lincoln East Spartans meet on the hardwood. It’s usually an instant classic.
Wednesday evening was just another chapter in what’s turning into a fierce rivalry between the teams. The Bearcats and Spartans met in the semifinals of the Heartland Athletic Conference Tournament at Lincoln High, and what followed was two overtimes, an influx of three-pointers — mainly from East’s Connor Riekenberg — and too many lead changes to count.
It was Kearney that got the edge this time as they outscored East 10-8 in the second overtime to beat the Spartans 75-73 and advance to the HAC championship against Lincoln Pius X on a date to be determined.
“If you go back to last year, I think we won by a shot at the buzzer, we got them in overtime, they got us in double overtime today, they’re just really good games,” Lincoln East coach Jeff Cambpell said. “They’re really good games because it’s two very competitive teams ready to get after each other.”
The game was back and forth throughout, but it was Kearney that took an early 18-10 advantage after one quarter of play. Riekenberg got the Spartans back into the game in the second quarter with five three-pointers to cut the deficit to two, 32-30, at the half.
East came out of the half with the momentum and took its first lead of the game early in the third quarter behind four quick points from Riekenberg. The teams continued to battle, but it was the Spartans that held a four-point lead at the end of the quarter.
The Bearcats erased the deficit in the fourth quarter by holding the Spartans to just six points in the period to force overtime.
After an even first overtime, Carson Scwartz, who finished with a team-high 25 points, scored six points in the second extra period to give the Bearcats a late lead. East senior Wes Dreamer had an open look from around 28 feet, but it rimmed out and Kearney advanced.
“Both these teams play similar styles and we’re both really tough and disciplined in what we do,” Kearney coach Drake Beranek said. “You don’t beat a team like East by making mistakes. They don’t beat themselves, and that’s so hard to do in high school basketball. We just kept doing what we do and fortunately they missed a few shots.”
Riekenberg finished with 24 points while making six threes, including one in the first overtime that seemed like it would be the difference. The Bearcats’ just had too many scorers, though. Seth Stroh finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out in the second overtime.
Shiloh Robinson added 21 points and nine rebounds for Kearney.
Lincoln Pius X 75, Lincoln High 64
The second semifinal didn’t quite pack as much drama, but it was an eight-point game at halftime before the Thunderbolts’ Charlie Easley decided to take over.
The Pius X senior recorded 14 of his game-high 25 points in the third quarter to push the Thunderbolt lead out of the Links reach.
The Lincoln High press did keep the Links’ deficit around 11 for most of the fourth quarter, but the Thunderbolts' ability from the line kept the lead intact.
“We wanted prove we’re not going to back down and we can take it to the hole every time,” Easley said. “We just kept going to that and it worked for us.”
Keyshawn Jenkins had a team-high 15 points for the Links, who had three players finish in double digits.
Pius X will face Kearney in HAC championship on a date to be determined.