Blank stares filled the faces of players on the Crete bench, while coach John Larsen slumped back in his chair and placed his hands on his head in disbelief.
The reason? A combined 1-for-25 shooting performance in the second quarter that resulted in a 9-8 halftime score.
As the state’s all-time win leader in girls basketball put it, “it wasn’t a classic, by any means.”
In the end, it was Larsen’s Cardinals who came to rue their missed chances in Wednesday’s opening-round Class B action at Pinnacle Bank Arena. No. 7 Scottsbluff forced 13 turnovers and held No. 3 Crete to its lowest-scoring game of the season as the Bearcats emerged with a 34-20 win.
That type of defensive effort is nothing new for Scottsbluff (19-6), as head coach Dave Bollish said the Bearcats have routinely held opponents to 10 points or less during lockdown second halves.
A crucial three-pointer from California Wright gave Scottsbluff a 20-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter, when Brooke Deisley of Crete (21-4) scored a three-pointer of her own to get the game within four points.
Rather than panic, the Bearcats dug deep and leaned on their experience from making the state semifinals a year ago. Scottsbluff forced Crete to take increasingly long three-pointers, and the result was a 2-for-30 (6.7%) Cardinal shooting effort from beyond the arc.
“The experience motivated them to get here and finish that game even when it got a little close,” Bollish said. “Crete did a great job and cut it to four (points) there with a three, so I think the motivation and conditioning to finish was crucial.”
After missing Crete’s last three games while in the hospital with blood clots, Larsen appreciated the chance to coach his group one more time this season. Seniors Hannah Newton and Leah Jurgens were integral to last year’s state-title run and finished with five points apiece to end their Crete careers.
Still, a 7-for-52 (13.4%) shooting performance overall won’t win many basketball games, and especially not at the state tournament.
“It’s tough when you have to go out this way because we picked an absolute horrible time to play our worst game of the year,” Larsen said. “We had opportunities and we just didn’t take advantage of them.”
Sophomore Sabrina Harsh turned in one of her best performances in a Bearcat jersey with a 17-point, 11-rebound double-double, meaning the six-hour drive back to Scottsbluff will have to wait for another day. The Bearcats will have a day to rest and celebrate while also preparing for their next challenge — No. 1 Elkhorn North.
“We’re going to celebrate for a little bit; it’s important for these kids to embrace that moment, too,” Bollish said. “They worked really hard to get here and we want them to enjoy it.”
No. 1 Elkhorn North 35, No. 9 Omaha Gross 28
Unsurprisingly, there were a few first-time nerves among No. 1 Elkhorn North as the Wolves played their first-ever state tournament game.
Star freshman guard Britt Prince finished with seven points and 11 rebounds, but Elkhorn North needed some of its other playmakers to step up in a 35-28 win over No. 9 Omaha Gross.
Elkhorn North (19-2) went scoreless for over six minutes in the third quarter but responded by outscoring Omaha Gross (17-7) 13-2 during a dominant fourth quarter. Hannah Nadgwick scored six of her team-high 11 points during the fourth quarter, and Reilly Palmer finished with 11 points as well.
Rachel Culhane paced Omaha Gross with 12 points.
“There was definitely a lot of nerves and they didn’t play as free as they’ve normally done all season long,” Elkhorn North coach Ann Prince said. “We’re just proud of the kids for stepping up and playing the defense they needed to win this game.”