SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. -- For the second straight year, the Kimball and Mitchell girls basketball teams will decide the championship of the Western Trails Conference Tournament.
The Longhorns and Tigers advanced into the title game after posting semifinal victories on Friday afternoon at Western Nebraska Community College in Scottsbluff.
Kimball, the tournament’s top seed and defending champion, got four key 3-pointers from Taylor Wismer in the second half to pull away for a 54-45 win over Gordon-Rushville. Wismer led the Longhorns with 15 points.
In the second semifinal, second seeded Mitchell took advantage of its speed, full-court pressure, and hot shooting to record a 60-41 win over Bridgeport. The Tigers built a double-digit lead early and never looked back.
Kimball and Mitchell will battle for the championship today at 5:30 p.m., while Gordon-Rushville and Bridgeport will play in the consolation game at 2 p.m.
With a win today, Kimball would pull into a tie with Mitchell for the most tournament titles in the conference’s history with seven. A Mitchell win would give the Tigers their first championship since 2002.
“It always feels good to get back to the final and play for the conference championship,” Kimball coach Ken Smith said. “To be able to repeat would be really sweet.”
Wismer’s three treys and one from Brooke Hager helped Kimball to a 37-33 lead after three quarters of its game with Gordon-Rushville.
The Longhorns then broke the contest open by scoring the first nine points of the fourth quarter to push their advantage to 46-33 with just over three minutes to play. Three-pointers from Darbi Klinkhammer and Wismer sparked the run.
Gordon-Rushville finally broke its scoring drought when Brittany Hoagland drained a 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 52 seconds to play. However, the Mustangs would never get any closer than seven the rest of the way.
Smith said Wismer’s long-range shooting gave the Longhorns the spark they needed at just the right time.
“Taylor had a huge game for us,” he said. “She hit three 3-pointers in the third quarter that gave us a little breathing room. I thought she also played really well for us defensively.”
Wismer was one of three Longhorns to score in double figures. Klinkhammer and freshman Danika Daum both finished with 10 points each, including a pair of 3-pointers.
Daum led Kimball on the glass with seven rebounds. Shelby Vogel track down five rebounds, while Klinkhammer had four boards and three steals.
Gordon-Rushville was led in scoring by Hali Sahr with 12 points.
Sara Marlatt pulled down 11 rebounds for the Mustangs. Hoagland added five.
Kimball shot 15 of 23 at the free-throw line, while Gordon-Rushville was 3 of 6.
In the second semifinal, Mitchell made an early statement by opening the game on an 8-0 run. Bridgeport managed to close back within five, but that would be as close as the Bulldogs would get the rest of the way.
Mitchell led 22-13 after the first quarter and held a 37-18 advantage at halftime. The Tigers’ lead ballooned to 26 in the third quarter.
First-year Mitchell coach Brock Ehler lauded the play of his squad against a very solid Bridgeport team.
“Bridgeport’s a good team. They’re well rounded and Coach [Bryan] Schluterbusch is a great coach. He does a great job with them and he has a lot of experience,” Ehler said. “Fortunately for us, we were just a little bit faster than they were tonight and we executed a little better than them in the first half. Once they got panicked early, we were able to set the game tone.”
Ehler said the Tigers’ full-court pressure proved key in causing a number of turnovers by the Bulldogs.
“We like to play in the full court,” he said. “A lot of that is because our speed allows us to do some different things. We were able to be effective with our presses.”
The win marked Mitchell’s third of the season against Bridgeport. However, Bridgeport’s Schluterbusch said the play of the Tigers on Friday was the best he’s seen from them in the three meetings.
“They’re putting everything together at the right time of the year,” Schluterbusch said. “That’s definitely the best they’ve shot against us this year. They did a good job breaking our pressure, and we didn’t do a good job of handling theirs early. When you add all of those things up, it’s pretty tough to beat a good team like Mitchell.”
Mitchell was sparked to the win by senior Havannah Newens, who finished with a double-double performance of 23 points and 11 rebounds. Chalsey Grentz added 12 points, while Kady Lower poured in 10.
Lower grabbed five rebounds for the Tigers. Newens led Mitchell defensively with three steals.
Bridgeport was led in scoring by Sydney Faessler with 11 points, including three 3-pointers. Dina Cantu added nine points and Megan Dudden finished with eight.
Dudden and Jessica Kildow tracked down four rebounds each for the Bulldogs, while Huck led Bridgeport defensively with three steals.
Mitchell converted 13 of its 21 free throws. Bridgeport finished 10 of 22.
Today’s championship game will mark the second meeting of the season between Kimball and Mitchell. The Longhorns earned a 62-56 win on Jan. 22 in Kimball.
Gordon-Rushville (7-10) 8 10 15 12 — 45
Kimball (12-2) 12 9 16 17 — 54
Hali Sahr 12, Morgan Sones 2, Brandi Roth 9, Ashton Sasse 4, Cali Mulcahy 4, Brittany Hoagland 5, Sara Marlatt 9.
Shelby Vogel 9, Jessica Hanks 5, Danika Daum 10, Darbi Klinkhammer 10, Taylor Wismer 15, Brooke Hager 5.
Mitchell (11-7) 22 15 11 12 — 60
Bridgeport (7-11) 13 5 6 17 — 41
Chalsey Grentz 12, Aspen Reifschneider 4, Kady Lower 10, Havannah Newens 23, Mckenna Zulkoski 4, Mikaela Karpen 6, Felina Blanco 1.
Dina Cantu 9, Jada Huck 4, Sydney Faessler 11, Megan Dudden 8, AdreAnna Ernest 6, Brooke Schneider 2, Kassidy Kildow 1.