BATTLE CREEK — It just wasn’t meant to be.
Cedar Catholic dug itself a 16-0 first-quarter hole, then spent the next three quarters battling out of that hole against Neligh-Oakdale in Monday’s District title game.
The Trojans managed to climb all the way out of that cave, knotting the game early in the fourth quarter, but that’s as close as they could get to victory and a State Tournament berth, as the Warriors came back for the 47-36 victory.
Both teams played tough defense, leaving it anyone’s game in the fourth quarter, but the Trojans were unable to make it to Lincoln after a few late turnovers.
Neligh-Oakdale got out in front early, scoring 16 in the first quarter, led by A. Kerkman, who nailed a pair of 3-pointers,
but Cedar Catholic Coach Matt Steffen turned up the defensive pressure after that, holding the Warriors to just 12 points in the next two quarters.
The staunch defensive stand allowed Cedar to tie the game at 28-28 with six minutes left in regulation.
That was the closest the Trojans came to getting a lead though, as Grant White scored a team-high 21 points for the Warriors.
White went 7-8 from the freethrow line late in the fourth quarter, which helped send the Warriors to Lincoln with their 11-point win.
“I suspected that if we kept them under 50 points we would have a good chance,” said Trojans head coach Matt Steffen. “Unfortunately, our shooting was off tonight and we had some injury problems with Matthew Schaefer spraining his ankle and Matthew Becker dealing with a sore knee.”
The Cedar comeback was led by Stephen Hillis, who scored 18 points on the night.
He was tested early by a good Warrior 2-3 zone defense that crashed the boards whenever the ball came to Hillis inside.
The Trojans began moving the ball better though throughout the night, as Hillis was able to slowly give his team some momentum.
Fellow senior Sean Kathol had a rough night as he turned the ball over early, giving the Warriors their early momentum.
Kathol did settle himself into the game, finding open shooters, including Stephen Hillis for a layup alley-oop that came in transition off of a turnover. Kathol ended up fouling out late in the game as the Trojans had to foul to keep themselves in the game.
Steffen has high talk for all five seniors on this year’s team, saying they all contributed greatly to this team’s success, even if some of them didn’t see a lot of floor time.
“The seniors were a great group. I think they enjoy the game of basketball. Tanner [Keiser], Mason [Wiedenfeld], and Capp [Bengston] did not get to play much but they were great leaders in practice, and all five worked real hard for us.”
This is the second straight year Cedar has come up one game short of the state tournament. Last year the Trojans lost to Winnebago in the District title game.
The Trojans finish their year with a 16-10 record.
Neligh-Oakdale 16 4 8 19 47
Cedar Catholic 0 11 12 13 36
FG 13-28 10-33
3PT 3-19 3-17
FT 12-17 7-13
Cedar – Stephen Hillis, 18; Matthew Schaefer, 8; Sean Kathol, 4; Riley Arens, 4; Matthew Becker, 2. Neligh-Oakdale – Grant White, 21; A. Kerkman, 13; Tyson Belitz, 9; A. Rice, 2; C. Anderson, 2.