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Chasing History: Dawgs To Defend; WW Looks For First Title

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Lincoln, Neb. — Class D-1, top-ranked Pleasanton took a big lead but had to hang out to defend their title, while Weeping Water pulled out an overtime win over Hartington Cedar Catholic to set up a match up of the top-two teams in the class.

Pleasanton 61, Fremont Bergan 52

The No. 1 Bulldogs (27-1) advanced to the finals for the second straight season — and for the 55th time in 56 tries — with their 61-52 win over Archbishop Bergan, who they defeated in last year’s championship game.

In a defensive first half that was filled with fouls and turnovers, Pleasanton took a 19-18 lead on Kaci Pierce’s basket in the final seconds and then broke out of the locker room on a terror with a 12-0 run to start the half and 25-5 in all to lead 44-23. Senior Kaitlyn Linder had 10 of her 17 points in the spurt.

But, Bergan didn’t quit and the Bulldogs obliged from the line. Pleasanton, which finished 24-for-40, but had a 2-for-12 stretch in the fourth quarter, allowed the Knights to get within 57-52 with just over a minute left. 

Kaci Pierce scored 18 points to lead Pleasanton, while Isabelle Paitz added 10. Bergan sophomore Kaitlyn Mlnarik led all scorers with 21 for the Knights (16-10).

Fremont Bergan’s Kaitlyn Mlnarik splits through a Pleasanton trap in the Class D-1 semifinals. (nebpreps photo / Marcus Scheer)

ADJUSTMENTS: Pleasanton was in foul trouble early with their full court man pressure. But a halftime move to a 1-3-1 half court trap worked wonders.

“We are a 94-foot team. We want to get in your face and play physical. We want to get in transition. But, the game didn’t allow that and we were getting called for some fouls,” Pleasanton coach Jordan Arensdorf said. “We had to change up our game plan a little bit. We went to the trap to get our athletes in space and see if we could get some easy buckets.

RESPECTFUL RIVALS: It was the fourth meeting between the two school at state tournaments in the last two schools years, with Pleasanton now owning a 3-1 advantage. Bergan won the 2019 volleyball semifinals, but the Bulldogs won in the hoops finals last March and the volleyball final in November.

“They have a heck of a program,” Arensdorf said.

Weeping Water’s Grace Cave pulls up for a jumper in the Class D-1 semifinals. (nebpreps photo / Marcus Scheer)

Weeping Water 51, Hartington Cedar Catholic 50

Grace Cave’s two free throws with five seconds left after a steal of an inbounds play, gave Weeping Water just enough cushion to survive Hartington Cedar Catholic in overtime. The win puts the Indians in their first state title game in school history, while yesterday’s win over BDS was their first win at state ever.

Brynn Wortman’s steal and basket with 1:23 left tied the game at 45 and the game went to overtime when the Trojans’ Laney Kathol blocked Cave’s driving shot as time expired in regulation. Cave finished with 24 points, seven assists and five steals, while Reba Wilson had 11 points.

Trailing  36-34 entering the fourth quarter, the Indians jumped to a 41-36 lead by holding HCC scoreless for the first 3:41 of the fourth quarter. But the Trojans fought back to tie the game behind Kathol’s three baskets late, before Wortman tied it. Both players finished with 15 points, while Brooklyn Kuehn led the Trojans with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

BE COACHABLE: “We have Grace Cave and that’s no secret. But, our supporting cast is solid and we know that because we see it everyday in practice. It’s nothing new to us and we know those kids are going to play well for us.” — Weeping Water coach Joel Haveman

CATCH THIS: Grace Cave’s 24 points were worth watching, but it may have caught the eye of the casual fan. Cave finished seven assists, and knows that her teammates are ready.

“It’s very important that we have other girls score at the basket,” the Omaha commit said after the game. “If I penetrate I know that my teammates are going to rely on me to get them a good pass and they are going to knock down shots.”

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