Published Friday, December 20, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 1:12 am
BASKETBALL
Sans Snider, KHS girls take down No. 5 Rockets

KEARNEY — Kelsey Stithem had a pair of bloody scratches on her face after Friday night’s game.

The KHS guard had to absorb the blow with leading scorer Skyler Snider sidelined with a back injury. The deck was stacked even higher against the Bearcats with No. 5 Lincoln Northeast coming to town.

On Friday night, Stithem did whatever it took.

Stithem delivered 29 points, including 11 from the free-throw line, to lead Kearney to a 58-53 victory over Lincoln Northeast.

“Stithem stepped up huge,” said Kearney High coach Jason Boyd. “We needed almost all of those 29 to win.”

The grind-it-out fashion worked for a KHS squad that earned its first win over a top-five opponent in recent memory.

It was the free-throw line where Stithem and the Bearcats made their living. Stithem went to the line 18 times while the Bearcats shot 37 free throws in the second half alone.

“I felt like they were fouling on purpose because they were so mad,” Stithem said.

The Rockets could not prevent the KHS ball-handlers from controlling the tempo after the Bearcats got a four-possession lead in the second half.

“Some people thought we were stalling. We just spread them out to attack. That’s how we got them in foul trouble,” Boyd said.

The Bearcats turned the ball over 15 times in the first half. In the second half, however, they cut that number in half.

“That was huge because that limited their offensive possessions,” Stithem said. “If they don’t have the ball, they can’t score. When we had the ball, they were fouling us and we were getting to the line and hitting most of them.”

The Rockets only shot 30 percent from the floor and couldn’t string consistent possessions together until late in the fourth quarter. Tantashea Giger scored 19 of her 20 points in the second half while Morgan Ewing added 12.

But the defensive job the Bearcats did on Toni Tupper in the first half allowed them to go into the break with a lead. The 6-3 senior was held to two points in the first half thanks to the defensive effort of 6-3 Brianna Miller, who had eight rebounds and three blocks.

“Having someone like (Miller) to guard Tupper was huge because without her, they could just lob it all day,” Stithem said. “You could see every time Abby and Payton were on her — no offense to them but they’re five inches shorter — they fouled. Not having them foul was big. (Miller) did foul out but she had a heck of a game.”

The Rockets found a way to claw back into the game down the stretch. Giger’s hot shooting kept Northeast alive, and she even made it a one-possession game with five seconds left.

“Thank God we were up 15,” Boyd said.

But the Bearcats closed the door in fitting fashion — with a pair of Stithem free throws.

The win, Stithem said, was one she won’t soon forget.

“This is No. 1 or No. 2. This is right there with beating No. 6 Southwest on senior night last year,” she said.

But unlike last year’s senior night win, the Bearcats will have many more regular season games to build on Friday’s performance.

Boyd admitted he couldn’t specifically remember the last time the Bearcats took down a top-five foe. A win — and to do so without their leading scorer — was exactly what he could’ve hoped for.

“It’s the No. 5 team in the state and to me, they’re definitely one of the top five teams in the state. It was a great win for us,” Boyd said. “Just pulling out a win like that is such a confidence booster for these girls.”

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