KEARNEY, Neb. — There was never a wavering moment.
In the battle of unbeatens against neighboring Kearney Catholic, Minden's big lead was evaporating quickly Thursday inside the raucous atmosphere at Kearney High School.
But the Whippets had their steadying hands, senior sisters Jamie and Brooke Kissinger. And with some help from their supporting cast, they got the job done.
Behind 18 points from Brooke Kissinger and 17 from Jamie Kissinger, the Whippets (24-0) claimed the Class C1-10 subdistrict title with a 53-46 win against previously unbeaten Kearney Catholic.
Minden advanced to a district final on Feb. 28 against Grand Island Central Catholic. Kearney Catholic, currently second in the Class C-1 wild-card standings, will receive one of the two wild-card spots for the state tournament.
At first, it seemed Minden's highly talented team might run away with the game. The Whippets built a 31-15 lead early in the second quarter while rendering the Stars' full-court pressure defense almost irrelevant. Minden had its way on offense, with Illinois-bound Brooke Kissinger scoring all 18 of her points in the first half.
Kearney Catholic steadied itself in the third quarter, using a 9-0 run over five minutes to cut the lead to 39-34.
Minden's shots weren't falling — it missed its first five of the quarter. But coach Rick Chramosta remained confident in his team.
“You have a couple all-state kids out there that have been around it for a long time and played in probably a thousand games,” Chramosta said. “They've seen it all. They kept their composure, poise and they just battled through it and hit some big shots.”
None was bigger than Jamie Kissinger's 3-pointer midway through the third quarter that staved off that initial run from Kearney Catholic.
That made it 42-34, and while Kearney Catholic cut the lead to six late in the third quarter, its momentum had been halted.
Minden's Emily Malcom and Jenna Denney then connected on baskets to end the third quarter and open the fourth quarter.
While Minden scored only 14 second-half points, it kept the Stars at bay with its defense. The Whippets held Kearney Catholic to 30 percent shooting (14 for 46) on the night and limited leading scorer Allie Prososki to six points.
“I thought getting out early helped,” Chramosta said. “Playing well in the first half helped a bunch, and I thought we did a good job defensively on Allie. ... We made some other kids score, which they did.”
After falling behind by 16, Kearney Catholic shot its way back into the game behind freshman Kylie Thiele. She connected on two second-quarter 3-pointers and added another in the third quarter to help th Stars narrow the gap. Thiele led Kearney Catholic with 12 points, while fellow freshman Anna Squiers added 11.
Stars coach Rick Petri said his team, despite an unblemished mark entering the game, learned that it can contend with the best.
“I think No. 1, we know that we can compete at a high level,” Petri said. “For a lot of people, there may have been a little doubt in our mind where we really stand, and I thought that our kids did a pretty good job.
“Give Minden credit, they shot the ball really well that first half. Our kids didn't quit in the second half. We dug down, played a little bit of defense and made a little comeback.”
It was all played in an environment worthy of two undefeated teams — the lone unbeaten girls teams in the state.
The fans lined up hundreds of feet outside Kearney High to get a coveted seat. Doors opened 90 minutes before the 7 p.m. tipoff, and the gym was full within an hour. Late arrivals were turned away.
“I knew it'd be a state-tournament atmosphere, and it was confined in a little gym,” Chramosta said. “It was fun for the kids to get to compete in that situation.”
The message was also clear for the players: block out the excitement.
“Coach told us to just focus on the five girls on our side and the five girls on the other side of the court,” Brooke Kissinger said. “That's all we were worried about. We knew it was going to be packed, but that makes the game so much more exciting.
“It's only 5-on-5. We had to worry about that.”
Minden (24-0) ......................................................... 23 16 5 9—53
Kearney Catholic (24-1) .......................................... 12 13 11 10—46
M: Brooke Kissinger 6-17 3-5 18, Jamie Kissinger 5-16 4-7 17, Taylor Kissinger 5-13 0-1 11, Jenna Denney 2-5 0-0 5, Emily Malcom 1-2 0-0 2, Rebecca Stewart 0-3 0-2 0, Ali Rowse 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-57 7-15 53.
KC: Kylie Thiele 4-9 1-2 12, Anna Squiers 3-7 5-8 11, Allie Prososki 2-8 1-2 6, Katelyn Long 1-2 4-4 6, Whitney Colling 2-7 0-0 5, Michelle Messbarger 1-4 1-2 3, Shayla Conner 1-4 1-2 3, Maddie Squiers 0-4 0-1 0, Kayla Shundoff 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 14-46 13-21 46.
3-point goals: M 8-23 (B. Kissinger 3-9, J. Kissinger 3-9, Denney 1-1, T. Kissinger 1-4), KC 5-16 (Thiele 3-6, Colling 1-1, Prososki 1-7, Messbarger 0-1, M. Squiers 0-1). Rebounds: M 42 (J. Kissinger 13), KC 37 (M. Squiers 10). Turnovers: M 12, KC 15. Total fouls: MIN 15, KC 18. Fouled out: Stewart.