Shots won't fall for DCS boys in first-ever state meet action
LINCOLN -- There were a lot of factors against the Dundy County-Stratton boys in their Class C-2 state basketball tournament experience Thursday.
The Tigers were making their first appearance at the state tournament, and they were facing a talented and top-seeded Axtell Wildcats squad. Two key DCS players also were battling injuries.
Perhaps the biggest reason for Axtell's 73-45 first-round win was hot shooting by the Wildcats, and missed opportunities by the Tigers. Axtell hit 29 of 54 field goals for 52.7 percent, compared to a 17-for-43 effort (39.5 percent) for DCS. The winners also made 7 of 11 shots from 3-point range for 63.6 percent, while Dundy County-Stratton was 3 of 15 (20 percent) beyond the 3-point line.
"They shot the ball from the outside extremely well, better than I've seen on any of the tapes," said DCS head coach Kris Freeland, speaking of Axtell's effort Thursday. "That was our achilles heel. We packed it in and dared them to shoot from the outside, and that's what they did, and they did it well. That kind of took the wind out of our sails."
Dundy County-Stratton stayed close early in the first quarter, but Axtell began to pull away late in the period. The Wildcats led 18-11 after one quarter, then a 14-0 spurt helped Axtell to stretch the lead to 41-20 at intermission.
"It just snowballed on us," Coach Freeland said. "I think there were five consecutive three-pointers made at one time right at the end of the first quarter, into the second quarter. That kind of did us in.
"We actually got the shots that we wanted to take, we just didn't get them to fall. We would have liked to get in a little closer, make it a one-foot shot instead of a three-foot shot. But Axtell did a good job. Athletically, they are so quick. We had our opportunities, we had open looks, we just didn't put them down."
First-time state jitters
Freeland said his team probably had a little bit of the first-time, state meet jitters.
"I think I'd be lying if I said they didn't," he said. "But it was a great accomplishment for these boys (to qualify for state). This was our goal all year, and they did it. I think it was kind of a little bit of relief. They battled hard."
Two injuries didn't help the DCS cause. Senior Kendal Glidden suffered a sprained ankle in practice last Monday, and Freeland said the 6-7 center "didn't touch the ball until Thursday." Glidden and 6-5 freshman Joe Rettele led the Tigers with 13 points. Fellow senior Willie Mathews also was slowed by a thumb injury, according to his coach. Mathews did not score a point in Thursday's game.
But that wasn't an excuse, as Freeland gave Axtell credit for a strong performance.
"I'm not going to taking anything away from Axtell," he said. "Axtell's very athletic, the most athletic team we've seen. Looking at their schedule, the only team they lost to was Minden, and Minden was in C-1 (state) and won their game (Thursday, a 46-41 win over Falls City).
"Could we have played them closer? Yes. They got hot from the outside and we didn't shoot the shots that we needed to. We gave them a lot of easy transition buckets in the second half. They just took it to us. They are a pretty good team.
"But I also think that there had been times if we had shot the ball in early (in the game), it might have been a different game. Because you have a team that's 22-1 that's not used to getting behind or getting beat, it might be a different outcome. We had a lot of opportunities, the ball just didn't go in."
Axtell, 23-1, was led by guards Spencer Fecht and Bryce Runge with 20 points each.
Dundy County-Stratton ends the season with a 16-8 record. Coach Freeland said this year's squad has hopefully set an example for future DCS teams.
"I had a blueprint when I came down here, and the blueprint got thrown out the window because we did a lot better than I thought we would the first year or so," he said. "I think this will make a difference, the (underclassmen) will get hungrier to get where they need to go.
"Like a lot of basketball seasons, it was a roller coaster season. You get your peaks and valleys. We peaked at the right time. Unfortunately there's only two teams now (at state) that get to end on a win. We weren't one of them, but we were one of the last eight teams standing.
"I can't say enough about our seniors. They stepped up when they needed to step up. They got the job done, and they built a great foundation for the future of Dundy-County-Stratton basketball."
CLASS C-2 STATE TOURNAMENT
First Round Thursday
At Lincoln Southeast High School
Axtell boys 18 23 22 10 -- 73
Dundy County-Stratton 11 9 13 12 -- 45
AXTELL -- Spencer Fecht 20, Bryce Runge 20, James Clark 8, Trevor Fecht 7, Nick Robison 7, Brandon Benson 4, Blake Fahrenbruch 2, Jordan Larson 2, Erik Lundeen 2, Blake Lobner 1.
DUNDY COUNTY-STRATTON -- Kendal Glidden 13, Joe Rettele 13, Aaron Baney 9, Jordan Faimon 3, Tyler Freeland 3, Josh Anderson 2, Walt Zarkowski 2.