Grand Island Northwest appeared to have everything under control entering the final quarter against Seward, but walking away with a victory proved to be a little more of a challenge.
The Vikings survived a furious fourth quarter rally by Seward to prevail 58-53 in overtime. Northwest (2-1) led by 14 points after three periods, but saw the Bluejays explode for 21 points and twice hold the lead before Darrek McNelis converted a three-point play with just over 21 seconds left in regulation. Seward failed to get a shot off, as Casey Dahlkoetter came up with the ball and an off balance three by Jason Shultis went wide at the buzzer.
Unfortunately for Seward, its offense came unglued in the extra period. The Bluejays went just one of 10 from the field, and missed a chance at an early lead when a layup failed to fall. Instead, the Vikings responded with another three point play, then tacked on two more free throws with just over a minute to go as the Vikings held off another comeback attempt.
"We just weren’t getting baskets in the second half," Northwest coach Ryan Rathke said. "We had too many turnovers, and that really allowed them to cut into the lead. We were up by 17 in the third, 14 at the quarter, but things kept building for them — it was a big-time momentum swing.
"I’m very proud that we answered the bell in overtime. Giving up a big lead like that - we could have easily folded. Their going to the 3-2 zone really started it. We thought we could hurt them on the baseline, but we just had a very hard time getting the ball down there."
Seward coach Mark Cidlik agreed that his team’s intensity was the factor that allowed his team to claw its way back into the game.
"Getting in the passing lanes once we went zone was big for us," he said. "Our guys played big and got a lot of steals and deflections. We were rebounding fairly well al night, but we just weren’t shooting the ball very well. We had the right guys shooting, especially late in the game, but we didn’t get some inside shots to fall that could have made a difference."
The Vikings got off to a nice start offensively in the first half, as post player Garrett Koepp scored eight of his 15 points in that stretch, while Casey Dahlkoetter’s outside shooting and the Vikings’ transition game allowed Northwest to build a 29-15 lead. Rathke said that it was critical for his team to not be one-dimensional offensively, and that Koepp’s effectiveness inside was a real plus.
"Darrek gets a lot of attention from people, but for us to be effective, Garrett has to be a scoring threat inside, and tonight he was. I also thought Brook Brown gave us a lot of great minutes off the bench."
Part of what allowed the Bluejays (1-2) the chance to at a comeback was free throw shooting. The Vikings only had six attempts from the line in regulation, while Seward was 14-of-17. Northwest had also kept the Seward 3-point shooters under wraps all night, but the Bluejays hit three treys inside the last three minutes of the fourth period.
"Our number one key was to play great defense without fouling," Rathke noted. "We didn’t quite do that, and it hurt us. Seward did a great job at the line, the fact that they get those late threes out of nowhere - you have to give them credit. In spite of that, I think we took a step in the right direction tonight. I think there were a bunch of inexperienced varsity players that grew up a lot tonight."
McNelis led the Vikings with 21 points and 12 rebounds, while Ben Klenke, who hit two of the threes in the last big Seward push, topped all scorers with 24.
Seward (1-2) ........................... 7 8 13 21 4 — 53
Northwest (2-1) ....................... 13 16 13 7 9 — 58
S: Sloup 3-13 3-3 10, Fitzke 0-2 0-0 0, Majerus 0-2 1-2 1, Bialas 0-3 0-0 0, Stevenson 4-12 1-1 10, Klenke 6-21 10-12 24, Holtorf 4-6 0-0 8. Totals 17-59 15-18 53.
N: Daws 1-1 0-0 2, T. Brown 0-1 0-0 0, McNelis 7-10 6-7 21, Ellsworth 0-1 0-0 0, Schliep 1-2 0-0 3, Shultis 1-3 1-2 3, B. Brown 1-1 0-0 2, Koepp 7-11 1-3 15, Dahlkoetter 4-15 1-2 12. Totals 22-45 9-14 58.
3-point shots — S 4-22 (Sloup 1-7, Fitzke 0-1, Bialas 0-2, Stevenson 1-5, Klenke 2-7), Northwest 5-13 (McNelis 1-1, Schliep 1-1, Shultis 0-1, Dahlkoetter 3-10). Rebounds — S 24 (Stevenson 5, Klenke 5, Holftorf 5), NW 40 (McNelis 12, Koepp 8). Assists — S 6 (Sloup 3), NW 12 (Shultis 7). Turnovers — S 10, NW 22. Personal Fouls — S 16, NW 16. Fouled Out — S, Holtorf; NW, Schliep. Technical Fouls — NW, Schliep.
Northwest overwhelmed Seward in the early going before cruising in for a decisive victory.
The Vikings (3-1) unleashed their meat grinder trapping defense against the younger Bluejays, and the result was devastating for the visitors. The Vikings forced 16 first half turnovers and were so effective in transition that the sight of the Northwest half court offense was something of a rarity. Northwest coach Mike Herzberg said this was a night when the Vikings’ defense truly was their offense.
"That’s our number one point of emphasis," he said. "The girls have taken pride in being a good defensive team, and that really helped us tonight. We had the height advantage in just about every situation, and we didn’t foul. We just had a really solid team defensive effort - our backside help was where it needed to be, and we got the ball downcourt fast."
Seward coach Mark Rogge agreed that Northwest’s defensive dominance was the biggest factor in the game.
"When you don’t pass the ball right, they’ll make you pay," he said. "They’re tall, they’re athletic, and your mistakes start to snowball very quickly. I think we were less shell-shocked in the second half, which I was glad to see. We came out and attacked their trap a little better, we took care of the ball and we didn’t hurt ourselves as much with our own mistakes."
Northwest jumped to a fast 13-2 lead after the opening quarter. Erin Sorahan started things offensively with a three and then finished a fast break. The Vikings then got threes from Katie Placke and McKenzie Brown, who led the Vikings with 23 points, five assists and seven steals. Northwest keptup the intensity, scoring on four inside buckets during the second quarter as well as two threes from Brown.
"We did a good job offensively taking what they gave us," Herzberg said. "We attacked the rim when we could, but we weren’t afraid to go thre or four passes either. Our scorers put a lot of pressure on them defensively. Our defense got us a lot of steals and defelections and when it was time we were able to rebound and run."
Northwest remained chopping block steady throughout the second half, despite Seward (1-3) finding somewhat greater success on offense in the third period. Seward was held to 22 percent shooting from the field as the Bluejays were never able to unlock the Viking defense.
"The bottom line is always the scoreboard," Herzberg said. "Our girls know that they make their teammates better, and that their teammates make them better. I think they understand that together we can be a very tough team to face."
Seward (1-3) ................... 2 8 13 6 — 29
Northwest (3-1) ............... 13 16 15 10 — 54
S: Hartman 0-1 0-0 0, Stutzman 0-2 0-0 0, Schulz 0-6 0-0 0, Ka. Heath 1-3 3-4 5, Duer 4-13 0-0 10, Ke. Heath 1-5 4-4 6, Sloup 1-2 0-0 2, Wolverton 0-1 0-0 0, Roth 1-2 0-1 2, Hanson 1-5 2-2 4. Totals 9-40 9-11 29.
N: Ka. Placke 3-8 0-0 7, Sorahan 4-7 0-0 9, Brown 9-20 2-2 23, Rathke 1-4 0-0 2, Ke. Placke 1-2 0-0 2, Schleicher 1-1 0-0 2, Beckmann 2-2 0-0 4, Keezer 1-7 0-0 2, Schacher 1-4 1-1 3. Totals 23-55 3-3 54.
3-point shooting — S 2-15 (Hartman 0-1, Schulz 0-3, Duer 2-6, Ke. Heath 0-2, Roth 0-1, Hanson 0-2), NW 5-20 (Ka. Placke 1-4, Sorahan 1-4, Brown 3-8, Rathke 0-1, Ke. Placke 0-1, Schacher 0-2). Rebounds — S 34 (Duer 6, Hanson 6), NW 24 (Ka. Placke 7). Assists — S 5 (Hanson 2), NW 13 (Brown 5, Ka. Placke 4). Turnovers — S 27, NW 11. Personal Fouls — S 4, NW 9. Fouled Out — none. Technical Fouls — none.