Hitchcock Co. girls seeking state tournament hardware
TRENTON, Neb. -- The game plan for the second go-round is different for the Hitchcock County High School girls basketball team.
Many of the young ladies on this year's Falcons team were members of the 2009-10 squad that qualified for the Class D-2 state tournament. Hitchcock County dropped a 50-40 first-round decision to eventual D-2 state runner-up Wynot in state tournament action two years ago.
After a brilliant regular season, this year's Hitchcock County edition has plans to play three games at state and add more hardware to the school's trophy case.
The Falcons were the top-ranked team in the state's D-1 division for most of this season. Hitchcock County won the Class D1-10 Subdistrict Tournament in McCook Feb. 16 to advance to the D1-5 District final. But Amherst wrecked plans for an unbeaten season with a 53-37 victory Friday, Feb. 24, at North Platte Community College.
Despite the district final loss, Hitchcock County qualified for state as one of two wild cards in the D-1 field. The Falcons, 23-1, are the second seed in the state tourney. Hitchcock County will face seventh seed Sandhills/Thedford (21-4) in first-round play Thursday, March 1 at 2 p.m. at the Lincoln Southwest High School gym.
Entering the district final, the Falcons knew they would go to state with a wild card win or lose.
"We just kind of fell flat," said head coach Jared Albers. "We played a real good first quarter. It seemed like we lost our mojo. The other team really didn't make any adjustments -- the ball just quit going in the hole for us. We just had an awful tough time rebounding. We just kind of fell flat a little bit."
Htichcock County led Amherst 18-10 after one quarter. But the Falcons were outscored 11-7 in the second quarter, then Amherst held the Falcons to just two points in the third period to go from a 25-21 halftime deficit to a 36-27 advantage.
Coach Albers thinks the loss might have taken a little pressure off his team with the perfect record erased.
"When you look back on it, sure, we're disappointed, but I think in the long run it may be a blessing. It got us out of playing that 9 o'clock morning game, and our opponent was still going to be the same whether we won or lost. As disappointing as it was, it's probably going to be good. We're probably going to look back on it and think it was a good thing in the long run."
If Hitchcock County would have beat Amherst, the Falcons would have been seeded first in the D-1 state tourney field. But Amherst, the eighth seed, would not have made state as a wild card, and that would have dropped Sandhills/Thedford to the eighth seed, meaning the Knights still would have played Hitchcock County in the first round Thursday, only at 9 a.m. as the one-eight seed opener.
Amherst, 18-6, now plays top seed Guardian Angels Central Catholic of West Point Thursday at 9 a.m.
Coach Albers watched Thursday's state tourney foe play in person when Sandhills/Thedford competed in its conference tournament.
Albers said S/T is a strong team led by 5-foot-10 senior Shelby Saner, who averages 12.3 points per game. Guards Michaela Miles, a senior, and junior Kaitlin Marten each average about 8 points per contest.
Albers said the Knights will try to push the ball up court and press on defense. Hitchcock County will need a strong defensive effort to slow down Saner.
"We just don't have that strong post presence inside where we're going to shut down an opposing post player one-on-one," Albers said. "So we're just going to have to play great team defense."
The Falcons have used an aggressive full-court press defense to key the strong season. Albers said Thursday's opponent probably are not the best ball handlers his team has faced this season.
"I really feel like if we can get going in our press, we will have an opportunity to be real successful," he said.
The Hitchcock County ringleader is 5-9 senior Laramey Lewis, who averages 22.5 points per game and shoots over 50 percent from the field, including 35 percent from 3-point range. Lewis anchors the Falcons defense with 123 steals.
Senior Jacee Kershaw also averages over 8 points per game for the Falcons.
Thursday's winner will meet the St. Mary's-Humphrey High winner in the D-1 state tournament semifinals Friday at 10:45 a.m. at Pershing Auditorium in Lincoln. The D-1 state title game is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln.
Rare state tourney appearance
The Falcons are making only their second girls state tournament appearance since the Culberson and Trenton school districts merged several years ago. The 2020 Culbertson team also qualified for state, losing to Elm Creek in first-round play. Trenton teams had back-to-back girls state tourney trips in 1988 and 1989, with a first-round loss to Big Springs in 1988, and a win over Sidney St. Pat's and a loss to Lawrence the following year.
Coach Albers thinks his team had a different mindset this year than the Falcons had in their last state tourney trip two years ago.
"I feel like it's totally different this time around," he said. "I feel like the last time we were just excited to be there. Whether we won or lost really wasn't a big deal. But I really feel like the girls are focused; they are focused on bringing home some hardware this time around."
The Falcons, with basically the same core group of players, also lost to Humphrey High in the first round of the Class D-1 state volleyball tournament last fall. Albers thinks that state tourney volleyball loss will also provide some inspiration for his basketball squad.
"I think two years ago (in basketball), our focus was just to get there, get to the state tournament," he said. "In volleyball, I think their focus was just to get to the state tournament. I think our team's focus all along has been to get (to state) and do something while we're there. I just think the mindset might just be a little different. Instead of celebrating the idea of being there, I think the idea is for us to win a couple games and bring back a trophy, bring back some hardware."