Seven games ago, prospects of a fifth straight trip to the state tournament were dimming for Hartington Cedar Catholic.
The Trojans had won only twice in six contests. The four losses, however, were to teams that had been in the ratings at some point during the early season.
A turnaround began Jan. 19 and, Saturday night, they collected their seventh straight win and captured the always-rugged Mid-State Conference tournament title for the first time in a dozen seasons by beating Class C-1’s Boone Central/Newman Grove 74-63.
“Earlier in the year, our chemistry wasn’t quite there. We only have two kids who played a lot of minutes last year,” Cedar Catholic coach Matt Steffen told reporters after the game. “I think they’re finding the chemistry and really finding the confidence.”
Logan Feilmeier, a 6-foot-4 senior guard who’s a three-year starter, had 18 points to lead four Trojans who scored in double figures in the championship game. They got 16 points from Grant Howell, a 6-4 junior; 15 from 5-11 sophomore point guard James Kaiser; and 10 from Trent Jansen, a 6-3 senior forward. Taylor Kathol, a 6-5 junior, had a game-high 17 rebounds.
Cedar Catholic ended an eight-game winning streak for Boone Central and won the season series with the Cardinals two games to one.
“I’ve never won a conference tournament championship,’’ said Steffen, in his seventh season. “I’m very proud of them, and I’m kind of getting the feeling that we’re getting going.”
Cedar Catholic rejoins the Class C-2 ratings in seventh, the biggest bump of the week in any class. It has a Saturday home game with Class C-2 No. 2 Norfolk Lutheran Northeast.
Elsewhere in conference tournaments:
>> Freeman beat Johnson County for the second time in three meetings, needing overtime for a 56-50 victory in the East Central Nebraska final. The Falcons, who rise from sixth to third in C-2 and nudge Johnson County down to fourth, scored 17 points in the four-minute extra period.
A fourth game between the teams would require Freeman to come out of a subdistrict that also includes C-2 No. 1 Sutton, which lost to the Falcons in overtime in late December.
Sutton, meanwhile, eked out a 46-45 win over David City in the Southern Nebraska finals.
>> Class C-1 No. 2 Kearney Catholic remained undefeated through 19 games by edging Adams Central 46-44 in the Lou-Platte final. Because only three teams in the previous C-1 rankings avoided losing last week, the Patriots still gain two spots to third in the new ratings.
>> Randolph won the last Northeast Nebraska title before the league disbands at the close of the school year. The Cardinals (14-4) beat Laurel-Concord/Coleridge 59-37 in the final.
>> Class D-1 No. 2 Howells-Dodge (19-0) beat three C-2 teams to win the East Husker Conference in its league debut.
>> Class D-1 No. 4 O’Neill St. Mary (17-1) went to overtime with Elgin/Pope John in its opening game but went on to a repeat tournament title in the Niobrara Valley Conference.
Other tournament winners were Kimball (14-1) in the Western Trails, Class D-1 No. 3 Kenesaw (19-0) in the Twin Valley, Class D-2 No. 3 Falls City Sacred Heart (18-3) in the Pioneer, Overton (14-5) in the Fort Kearney and Sandhills/Thedford in the Loup Valley.
Heartland Classic: General admission seating are the only tickets that remain for Saturday’s Heartland Hoops Classic in Grand Island. Only tickets bought in advance will be guaranteed admittance to the Heartland Events Center.
Adult tickets are $16 and student tickets are $8. Tickets are good for all eight games, including the 9 p.m. Omaha Central-Oak Hill Academy (Va.) clash.
Tickets can be purchased at the Heartland Events Center box office or through ticketmaster.com.
Saturday’s games: 8:30 a.m., High Plains vs. Grand Island Heartland Lutheran. 10:15, Sutton vs. Grand Island Central Catholic. Noon, Raymond Central vs. Hastings St. Cecilia. 1:45 p.m., Lincoln Pius X vs. Grand Island. 3:30, Fremont Bergan vs. Doniphan-Trumbull. 5:15, Kearney Catholic vs. Grand Island Northwest. 7, Boys Town vs. Norfolk Catholic. 9, Oak Hill vs. Omaha Central.
Top games this week:
Class C-1 — Tuesday: Adams Central at Hastings St. Cecilia, Boone Central/Newman Grove at Doniphan-Trumbull, Council Bluffs St. Albert at Boys Town, Wahoo at Columbus Scotus, Cozad at Gibbon, Johnson County at Lincoln Christian. Thursday: Adams Central at Ravenna, Boys Town at Lincoln Christian. Friday: Fremont Bergan at Wahoo Neumann, Boone Central/NG at Norfolk Lutheran, Wilber-Clatonia at David City, Kimball at Hemingford. Saturday: Columbus Lakeview at Columbus Scotus, David City at Howells-Dodge, Gibbon at Shelton.
Class C-2 — Tuesday: David City Aquinas at Humphrey St. Francis, Yutan at Omaha Nation. Friday: Southern Valley at Dundy County-Stratton, Johnson County at Yutan. Saturday: Norfolk Lutheran at Hartington Cedar Catholic.
Class D-1 — Tuesday: Exeter-Milligan at McCool Junction, Bancroft-Rosalie at Howells-Dodge. Thursday: Pierce at West Point GACC. Friday: Bertrand at Arapahoe, BDS at High Plains. Saturday: West Point GACC at Wayne.
Class D-2 — Friday: Lindsay Holy Family at Bancroft-Rosalie.
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