Things looked suspect for Class A No. 4 Lincoln Northeast at Lincoln Pius X on Saturday afternoon after leading scorer McKenna Minter fouled out with two minutes remaining and a four-point lead.
The eighth-ranked Thunderbolts have shown a propensity for the outside shot, so the lead was far from safe, but the Rockets decided to lean on their biggest strength to see the victory through — heart.
The Northeast defense settled in and forced bad shots before A’lyana Jones and Jenna Wendelin combined to go 4-for-4 from the free-throw line down the stretch for a 45-38 Rockets win.
“Heart made the difference today. One of the toughest things to do is to come back after an emotional win last night and play a game at 3 the next day,” Northeast coach Steve Bartek said. “Especially against Pius X on their home court, it doesn’t get much tougher than that. We told the girls at halftime that we could pull this off, and these girls are resilient and they’re fighters. It’s been a great week for us.”
The Rockets followed up a big win against No. 5 Lincoln High on Friday night with a strong performance against the Thunderbolts. They carried the momentum through most of the first half, but the Pius X outside shooting kept the score close. The teams went into the break tied 21-21.
Northeast had a slim two-point lead in the third quarter before consistent scoring early in the fourth quarter gave them an advantage they wouldn’t lose.
“They got off to a good start and we did not, so that allowed them to get a little more comfortable in their zone defense,” Pius X coach Ryan Psota said. “We could never attack it consistently enough to force them to try something different, and I think that was the big thing today.”
Minter and Azaiya Trainor both finished with 12 for the Rockets, while Pius X’s Kloee Sander led all scorers with 13.
The teams could see each other soon enough as the holiday Heartland Athletic Conference Tournament approaches.
Lincoln Pius X boys 75, Lincoln Northeast 63
The Class B No. 3 Thunderbolts used a 17-5 second quarter to establish a double-digit lead they would hold throughout the contest.
Other than the big second quarter, the teams matched each other in points even with both top scorers going bucket for bucket.
Pius X’s Charlie Easley and Northeast’s Carson Busch both finished with 25 points, while Kolbe Rade added 23 for the Thunderbolts.
Easley put an exclamation point on the win for Pius X with a rim-rattling dunk to concluded the night’s scoring.