To reach the girls state basketball tournament, Millard North had to overcome one more bit of adversity Wednesday night in its district final against Lincoln Pius X.
Playing without top scorer Taylor Bahensky, the host Mustangs prevailed over the Thunderbolts 55-52. The victory boosts second-ranked Millard North (20-5) into the state tourney for the first time since 2009 and ends the season for 15-7 Pius.
“It was a close one, but I think we made one or two more plays than they did,” Mustangs coach Scott Persigehl said. “This team has been close the past two seasons, so I think our girls really deserved this.”
Millard North, which lost in the district final the past two years at Columbus, persevered without Bahensky. The senior guard suffered a broken finger in the Mustangs' regular-season finale Saturday night against Omaha Westside and is out for the season.
But on a team with 10 seniors, other players stepped up against the Thunderbolts. That group was led by guard Mary Dineen, who scored a team-high 24 points.
Dineen sank five baskets — including four 3-pointers — and made all 10 of her free throws. She was 6 of 6 from the line in the fourth quarter as the Mustangs doggedly tried to hold their lead.
“We've overcome a lot of adversity this season,” Dineen said. “And Taylor getting hurt was the latest thing. We knew we had to make up for her points and her energy.”
Dineen also was part of that adversity, having missed the first half of the season following knee surgery. But she said that actually helped her become a better free throw shooter.
“I had a long time to work on that,” she said. “I'm glad I was able to help tonight.”
Millard North led 12-5 after the first quarter but just 24-23 at half. The Thunderbolts grabbed a narrow lead in the second half behind the play of sophomore forward Maddie Simon and senior guard Rachel Arthur.
Simon scored 11 of her 24 points in the third quarter and Arthur scored 10 of her 22 in the fourth as Pius kept battling. The game was tied for the last time at 41 with 5:15 left on a layup by Simon, but a pair of free throws by Holly Hild and a 3-pointer by Dineen extended the Mustangs' advantage to five points.
Dineen scored nine straight points for Millard North in the final four minutes, and Hild was 6 of 6 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. Still, the game was in doubt until the very end.
A Cami Brenner free throw with 8.9 seconds left gave the Mustangs a three-point advantage, but Pius missed its chance to tie in the closing seconds when Simon was whistled for traveling.
“Both teams played exceptionally well,” Thunderbolts coach Bill Rice said. “They kept hitting their free throws, and Dineen made some big 3s that swung the momentum their way.”
Like Millard North, Pius made its last state tourney appearance in 2009. But the Thunderbolts, who moved up from Class B this season, will come up short in their quest to secure the one available Class A wild card.
“We hadn't seen them that much, but they're a tough team,” Persigehl said. “They really battled us tonight.”
Lincoln Pius X (15-7)...............5 18 14 15—52
At Millard North (20-5)...........12 12 12 19—55
LPX: Rachel Arthur 22, Miranda Paul 6, Maddie Simon 24.
MN: Ali Drey 6, Cami Brenner 1, Holly Hild 12, Mary Dineen 24, Kenae Merritt 5, Jordan Tynes 2, Allie Swanson 5.
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