Millard North almost did it again Tuesday night against Omaha Central.
But this time, the Eagles were able to hang on for the girls basketball victory.
Central saw its 17-point lead dwindle to four late in the game but managed to defeat the visiting Mustangs 61-55. Earlier this season, the eighth-ranked Eagles blew a 20-point lead against fourth-ranked Millard North in a five-point loss.
“I was starting to think, ‘Here we go again,’ ” Central coach Tom Lee said. “Millard North is a very good team and they never quit.”
The host Eagles (12-4) got a strong performance from senior guard Sylvia Smith-Gatson. She was 7 of 10 from the field and 8 of 13 from the free-throw line to finish with a game-high 23 points.
Central needed every one of those points as it tried to fend off another furious Millard North rally. The Mustangs (12-4) inched within four points on three occasions late in the fourth quarter — all three of those baskets coming from senior guard Taylor Bahensky — but they could draw no closer.
“The big story for us is that we didn’t come out with any energy in the first half,” Mustangs coach Scott Persigehl said. “We were slow and tentative and didn’t make them work hard enough for their points.”
The Eagles, who were coming off a home loss against top-ranked Bellevue West, led 19-10 after the first quarter and 28-18 at halftime. That lead grew to 17 late in the third quarter before the Mustangs, led by Bahensky, battled back.
She had 12 points in the final period as Millard North turned up the defensive pressure, forcing eight turnovers. But when Central needed points in the final two minutes after Millard North had closed within four, it got them.
A layup by LaNa’e Washington-Carson, a pair of free throws by Sydney McGruder and two more free throws from Smith-Gatson allowed the defending Class A champion to escape with the win.
“After that loss to Bellevue West, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to bounce back,” Lee said. “We’ve got a lot of young girls on the team this season, but we were able to get it done.”
Abigail Niebrugge scored 12 points while McGruder had nine points and nine rebounds for the Eagles, who return to action Saturday at Papillion-La Vista.
Bahensky paced the Mustangs with 22 points while Holly Hild added 10 and Mary Dineen nine. Millard North, which plays seven of its final eight games on the road, will play Thursday night at Omaha Marian.
Millard North (12-4)...........................10 8 15 22—55
Omaha Central (12-4).........................19 9 16 17—61
MN: Ali Drey 4, Holly Hild 10, Mary Dineen 9, Kenae Merritt 5, Taylor Bahensky 22, Emily Haase 1, Allie Swanson 4.
OC: Megan Gamble 2, Paige Muhammad 4, Abigail Niebrugge 12, LaNa'e Washington-Carson 7, Jackie Beaugard 4, Sylvia Smith-Gatson 23, Sydney McGruder 9.
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