GRAND ISLAND - With a wild card berth to the state basketball tournament out of the picture, there was no choice for High Plains on Tuesday night in the Class D-1, District 2 final at Grand Island Central Catholic.
Despite losing just four games all season — two to top-ranked teams in their class — the eighth-ranked Storm were in a win or go home situation in a class that still had three remaining unbeaten teams heading into Tuesday’s district finals.
So, the Storm took down third-ranked Kenesaw, one of those three unbeaten teams, 62-57 before a capacity crowd and earned a state berth for the second consecutive season. The Blue Devils, it appears, should still secure one of two wild cards for the state tournament which begins next Thursday in Lincoln.
“We had to get over this hump,” said High Plains coach Cameron Hudson. “Our kids have been denied so many times — in conference, in districts last year — we needed to get a win in this game. I’m really proud of their effort tonight.”
It wasn’t until the middle of the third quarter that the Storm took control, even though it never really seemed like it.
Kenesaw took a 26-25 lead to the locker room after the first half featured two ties and five lead changes. And, after five more lead changes early in the second half, the Storm turned up their defense to seize the momentum.
And old-fashioned three-point play from Dylan Shenk and 3-point shot from the wing by sophomore Cole Klingsporn turned a 33-29 deficit into a 35-33 lead halfway through the third quarter and the Storm never trailed again.
“Cameron and I talked before the game and we thought the team that shot it better and who could get that four or five or six-point spurt would probably be the team that won the game,” Kenesaw coach Jack Einrem said. “They got that little lead and we couldn’t ever quite get back in it.”
The Storm were a blistering 14-for-19 from the field in the second half, most of them from in the lane. They finished 25-for-46 from the field for the game and assisted on 15 of those baskets.
“We don’t guard or rebound very well but we’ve learned how to score,” Hudson said with a smile. “I thought we did a great job on offense tonight of getting really good looks at the basket and scoring in the lane.”
The Blue Devils were never closer than three points in the final frame, the last time when Tyler Schnitzler made three free thows with 5.8 seconds left to cut the lead to 60-57. But, Shenk – who led the Storm with 21 points – made two gifters at the other end for the final margin.
Schnitzler led all scorers with 22 points after going 11-for-14 from the free throw line. Kole Kimle had 17 and Dalton Bender 10 for the Blue Devils, now 23-1.
Hudson thought shutting down Bender — the Blue Devils leading scorer — in the second half made a difference. He scored just two points after halftime.
“We couldn’t stop (Bender) or Schnitzler in the first half and Kimle stepped up big for them,” Hudson said. “We took a chance at limiting Dalton’s touches in the second half and it worked out for us.”
Logan Fleming scored 19 points for High Plains and Klingsporn added 12 points, six assists, three rebounds and three steals.
Einrem had nothing but praise for his team, and the Storm.
“I hope our kids get to play some more games, because they deserve it,” the Kenesaw coach said. “They have had a heck of a season. But, High Plains is really good. They are as a good a team from position one to five as we’ve seen all season.”
High Plains 62, Kenesaw 57
HIGH PLAINS (21-4)
Klingsporn 4-11 2-2 12, Lo. Fleming 9-15 1-1 19, Shenk 8-10 3-5 21, Bender 1-4 0-0 2, Engel 2-5 0-0 5, Nunnenkamp 1-1 0-0 3, Wurtz 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-46 6-8 62.
Staton 0-5 0-0 0, Ty. Schnitzler 5-10 11-14 22, Bender 5-12 0-0 10, Kimle 7-13 1-2 17, Stocker 1-4 0-0 2, Burr 2-6 0-0 6, Tibbs 0-0 0-0 0. Pr. Schnitzler 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-49 12-16 57.
High Plains.............13 12 19 18 -- 62
Giltner....................14 12 15 16 – 57
3-point goals—HP 6-13 (Klingsporn 2-6, Shenk 2-3, Engel 1-3, Nunnenkamp 1-1), K 5-16 (Staton 0-2, Ty. Schnitzler 1-3, Bender 0-2, Kimle 2-5, Burr 2-4) Fouled out – none. Rebounds—HP 24 (Bender 9), K 33 (Kimle 7). Assists—HP 15 (Klingsporn 6, Engel 5), K 7 (Stocker 4). Turnovers—HP 9, K 7. Total fouls—HP 16, K 11. Technicals—None.