Round One Leads to Prize Fights

Elkhorn North junior Britt Prince was announced as the 2022-23 Nebraska Girls Basketball Gatorade Player of the Year on Wednesday.

LINCOLN — It’s a Friday for prize fights.

The NSAA’s move to a two-day, two-site quarterfinal format certainly did one thing. It produced knockout semifinal matchup’s for Friday. The biggest question for you, is where do you want to go?

Let’s rundown the first two days of the state tournament and give you a look ahead to Friday’s big day and show you some big round one performances.

Class A: Millard South and Bellevue West have provided the most riveting basketball in the class this year. At the Metro final, the Birds took a 55-53 win at home and then a few weeks later the Patriots took a 93-91 win that is the second-highest scoring game in Nebraska girls history. Somewhere in the middle would get us in state tournament record territory.

On Thursday, Cora Olsen scored 31 points on a tournament-record 14 field goals in South’s 74-58 win over Lincoln Southwest. For BW, Ahnica Russell-Brown had 18 points as they defeated crosstown rival Bellevue East 63-46.

Lincoln High and Millard North set up an intriguing late semifinal as well. The Links won the 23rd straight game as they pulled away from Millard West, 64-55. Kiana Wiley came off the bench to score 18 points for the Links, while the Wildcats Neleigh Gessert led all scorers with 23 points. Sarah Hawley’s four third quarter threes — and 15 points — gave Millard North breathing room in a 54-37 win over Lincoln North Star.

Shining Star: Wild hard to overlook Olsen, we’ll give the quarterfinal nod to Wiley, who made all the big plays in the fourth quarter and led her team with 18 off the bench.

Class A Wednesday Scoring

Class B: Britt Prince and McKenna Murphy finally got some help on Thursday afternoon and it allowed No. 2 and defending champion Elkhorn North to pull away from No. 5 Norris, 60-46. After Prince (16) and Murphy (9) scored all of the Wolves points in a 25-16 first half, EN got 18 second half points from Reese Booth, Sydney Stodden and Grace Heaney. Prince finished with 28 points and 14 rebounds.

York’s dominating third quarter was enough to wear out Scottsbluff. The Dukes outscored the Bearcats 12-5 right after the break and salted the game away in the final frame for a 38-26 win. Kiersten Portwine scored 15 points to lead the Dukes.

In late action on Thursday, Omaha Skutt jumped to a 12-0 lead — and 24-3 after the first quarter — on Waverly in their quarterfinal game and held the Vikings scoreless for the first 4:23 of the game before cruising to a 73-41 win. Molly Ladwig led the Skyhawks with 25 points. They’ll face Sidney, which gave up 25-18 halftime lead in the third quarter, but then used free throws late to hold off Beatrice, 43-37. Reese Riddle had 17 points for Sidney.

Shining Star: Prince. Willed her team in the first half while Norris hung close. With 28 points and 14 rebounds, her biggest shot a triple at the halftime horn that moved the Wolves lead to nine.

Class B Thursday Scoring

Class C-1: Man, did we get exactly what we wanted for Friday morning or what?

No. 2, three-time champion North Bend Central and No. 4 Malcolm in a rematch. And, No. 1 Bridgeport — the state’s final undefeated team — against No. 3 Adams Central. While most have geared toward a Bridgeport, North Bend final all year, not so fast.

Remember, Adams Central was a Class B semifinalist last year and will match up well with Bridgeport. Can their guards handle the Bulldog pressure? And, Malcolm can absolutely play with North Bend as they played a 54-46 game early in December. There will be no fear from the Clippers. Can they get the Emma Brown they got on Wednesday? It could be the difference.

On Friday, AC and Bridgeport took to cheering for the Bulldogs panhandle mate, Scottsbluff in their Class B quarterfinal against York.

Shining Star: The numbers won’t show it, but North Bend’s Kaitlyn Emanuel had to do a little bit of everything. In a class filled with star power, she put her head down and willed her team to victory.

Class C-1 Wednesday Scoring

Class C-2: Oakland-Craig — semifinalist a year ago — looked the part of a potential champion in taking down No. 1 Ponca 36-22 on Thursday morning at Devaney Center. They get second-ranked Crofton in the semifinals; a team they defeated in the 2022 third-place game, 60-57.

Chaney Nelson had 23 points and outscored Ponca in the win, while the Warriors jumped to a 10-point halftime lead before cruising to a 49-27 win over Cross County. Caitlin Guenther had 20 points to lead Crofton.

On the other side, it’s another northeast Nebraska semifinal as both Pender and Guardian Angels Central Catholic rolled to quarterfinal wins. No. 4 Pender got past Clarkson/Leigh 56-37 behind 13 points from Lillie Timm and 11 from Avery Wegner. For GACC, Kelsey Steffen scored 20 points and the Bluejays defeated Southern Valley 67-46.

Shining Star: Oakland-Craig dominated top-ranked Ponca ending their season, 37-22. In the process, Chaney Nelson outscored the Indians by herself with 23 points.

Class C-2 Thursday Scoring

Centura’s Taya Christensen. (nebpreps photo / Dante Boelhower)

Class D-1: The top-4 teams most of the season in our Class D-1 coaches poll advanced — mostly — with ease on Wednesday. And it’s the conference mates — Ravenna and Centura — getting a shot at the parochial powers — Hastings St. Cecilia and Cedar Catholic in the semifinals.

On Wednesday, Ravenna pulled away from S-E-M, 51-37, behind 26 points from Tori Sklenar. The Jays, S-E-M and Centura were all in the same sub-district. St. Cecilia won like they usually do — with defense. The defending Class C-2 champions beat Elmwood-Murdock 49-37 with three double-figure scorers including 16 from junior Ryann Sabatka.

In the evening session at Devaney, Centura’s 1-2-2 and point girl Taya Christensen finally broke Elgin Public/Pope John. Christensen scored 8 of her 11 points in the second half and Sydney Davis had 13 to lead the Centurions to a 45-27 win. In the nightcap, Makenna Noecker scored 25 points and the Trojans defeated Johnson-Brock 69-36.

Your semifinal nugget — neither St. Cecilia or Cedar Catholic have lost to a Class D team this season. As for Centura and Ravenna? The only class losses are each other.

Shining Start: Noecker. The Trojans completely controlled their first round game and her 25 points was a big reason.

Class D-1 Wednesday Scoring

Falls City Sacred Heart’s Olivia Eickhoff (nebpreps photo / Mike Sautter)

Class D-2: Have we heard this one before? Falls City Sacred Heart and Humphrey St. Francis will play a state tournament game.

After falling behind 23-13 after one quarter, the Flyers were finally able to slow down McCool Junction and the tournaments leading scorer, Makenna Yates. While Yates had 20, HSF countered with 24 points from sophomore post Isabel Preister and outscored McCool 48-31 over final three periods in a 61-54 win.

Sacred Heart took control early against Leyton, which suited just seven players for the Thursday morning tip. Nine players scored with Jessica Wertenberger getting 13 in a 64-30 win over the Warriors.

Shelton and their “line changes” dominated Wilcox-Hildreth from the beginning in the Class D-2 night session. They sprinted to a 14-4 first quarter lead before defeating the Falcolns 52-22. Makenna Willis had 21 points for the Bulldogs, who played in the Class D-1 final last season. They get perennial power Wynot in the semifinals. The Blue Devils defeated St. Mary’s 53-44 behind 22 points from senior Amber Lawson.

Shining Star: Willis was a big reason why the Bulldogs made their final appearance in Class D-1 last season. Her 21 points on Thursday helped Shelton make quick work of Wilcox-Hildreth.

Class D-2 Thursday Scoring

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