The Niobrara/Verdigre boys basketball squad gave the No. 1 seed West Holt all it could handle, and them some, but eventually fell to the Huskies, 62-42, Monday in the quarterfinals of the Niobrara Valley Conference tournament at West Holt.
"Niobrara/Verdigre has a good offense," stated West Holt coach Todd Hale. "They have guys that can light it up and we had to guard them all over the court. It spread us out pretty well. We ran them off the 3-point line and got enough charges that we closed up the middle. We were kind of tight to start with and had some nerves. These guys have never been in this position before. The first quarter was rough, we missed some shots that normally go in. But I told them if they play defense, it will travel. This time of year, you need good defense."
"We let it get away from us in the second quarter and that ended up being the point spread," commented N/V coach Todd Runnels. "They were a matchup problem for us. They had a lot of height, a lot of skill and a lot of outside shooting threats. But I was pretty happy with our effort. It could have got away from us, but we managed to stay close enough to have to chance."
Both offenses were humming as both teams battled to a 12-all tie after the first quarter. N/V's Angel Grant and Mathis Gierga each netted 5 points, while the Huskies' Kooper Jelinek tallied 8 points in the opening quarter.
“That was a great start,” Runnels noted. “I loved our start. We talked about getting off to a good start and I thought we were on our way, but the second quarter we put in a few replacements and changed our defense to a zone and they got two big 3s right off the back. They made us pay and that hurt. We had a hard time stopping them in the second.”
After a Rane Vesely layup, West Holt ended the half on an 18-4 run to take a 30-18 advantage into the break.
“For us to get out, run and get some easy baskets was important,” Hale spoke. “The kids we had on the floor at the time were able to press and we got a few good turnovers. We were able to increase the tempo of the game and that was to our advantage. That was huge.”
Camden Eisenhauer’s putback cut the deficit to 8 to start the third, but West Holt answered with a 12-3 run and took a 46-31 lead into the final stanza.
The Cougars made their way back in the fourth. A pair of Eisenhauer trifectas, and a Jordayn LaPlante triple, cut the lead to 9 to start the fourth.
The Huskies pulled away with a 13-2 run to end the contest and seal a spot in the semifinals.
“We rallied pretty good in the fourth quarter,” Runnels recalled. “Right after we got it down to 9, we had three-straight turnovers. That was tough. One more score and we could have put a little more pressure on them and they might have made a mistake, or two, to help us even more. We couldn’t get that next score and they pulled away again. They were hard to stop. “
West Holt's opportunistic offense was the key in the win. The Huskies turned 16 N/V turnovers into 17 points.
“That’s what our kids like to do,” Hale remarked. “If they can get out in run, they are pretty fast. If we play good defense, we’re going to get turnovers and some run outs. That’s what we work on.”
Aaron Kraus led West Holt with 13 points. Jelinek tallied 12 points, Logan Wieneke netted 8 points, Garrison Hansen, Jordan Tasler and Austin Wenner each scored 7 points, Joseph Seger had 5 points and Tyler Larby added 3 points.
For the Cougars, Eisenhauer led the way with 12 points. Grant chipped in 10, LaPlante recorded 8 points, Gierga contributed 6 points,, Vesely accumulated 4 points and Ken Justo pitched in 2 points.
Niobrara/Verdigre (8-11) bows out of the conference tourney and returns to the court Feb. 5, when the Cougars host West Holt.
“We knew they were the No. 1 team in the conference and we felt like we could play with them,” Runnels stated. “We have to make a few more adjustments and hopefully he (Hale) doesn’t make too many. Maybe we can get a little closer when we see them next Tuesday night. We have room to grow from that game.”
West Holt (12-6) advances to the semifinals to take on Clearwater/Orchard Thursday at 6:15 p.m. in Bartlett.
“We’re going to come out with less pressure the next game,” Hale concluded. “All the nerves shouldn’t be there like they were tonight. It was a tough game. If you win this one, you get two more days to play in. We’re going to let it hang out. The OC game was close and very competitive. We’re going to matchup well. It’s going to come down to how we play defense and how we keep our composure."