In a close game Friday against Omaha Central, freshman Chloe Akin-Otiko stepped up for Bellevue West.
She had a pair of baskets in the fourth quarter and played tough defense against high-scoring Eagles guard Sylvia Smith-Gatson to help the Thunderbirds post a 53-50 victory. She finished with nine points and helped lift Bellevue West into Saturday’s championship game.
“She did a great job today,” Thunderbirds coach Marc Kruger said. “We needed her in that fourth quarter, and she responded.”
Her biggest play came with 4:15 left and Bellevue West holding a three-point lead. Akin-Otiko stole the ball and sank a layup to extend the Thunderbirds’ lead and maintain the team’s momentum.
It also was nice that older sister Alexis, a former Bellevue West standout, was there to cheer her on.
“I’m so proud of her,” said Alexis, now a Creighton player. “It’s fun to see her play here, and it brings back a lot of memories.”
Hard to forget
It’s obvious that last year’s painful one-point loss against Omaha Central in the state final still weighs on Lincoln Southeast sophomore Jessica Shepard.
Shepard mentioned the setback after pouring in 28 in a semifinal win over Millard West.
“To get back to the championship feels great,” she said. “Especially after last year’s loss.”
The Nebraska recruit added that the Knights seemed more at ease in Friday’s semifinal than in Thursday’s opener against Bellevue East. “We were a lot more relaxed.”
Kearney Catholic not only won its Class C-1 game Friday against Wahoo, the Stars students had some of the more interesting costumes so far at state.
That list included Iron Man, Captain America, Spiderman, the character Toad from Mario Brothers, a giant whoopie cushion and a kid riding what appeared to be a giant inflatable ostrich.
Wahoo’s tall order
Kearney Catholic’s height proved to be a major obstacle Friday for Wahoo in their Class C-1 semifinal.
While the Stars have three players who are 6-foot or taller, the Warriors’ tallest player is 5-10.
“I kind of felt like we were midgets out there,” Warriors coach Linda Walker said after a 65-33 loss. “Those girls also have long arms, and that disrupted a lot of our shots and passes.”
Chadron coach Curt Holmquist said he’s hopeful that leading scorer Ashlea Kerr will be able to bounce back from the knee injury suffered in Friday’s Class C-1 semifinal against Pierce.
Kerr, a junior forward, originally injured the knee in practice a few weeks ago. She was wearing a brace on it Friday and went down midway through the first quarter.
She did not return to the game, a 52-34 loss to Pierce.
“We’re hoping she can make a comeback like that Minnesota running back (Adrian Peterson),” Holmquist said. “I’d love to see her come back and have an MVP year.”
Eager to assist
Hastings St. Cecilia’s Morgan Nikkila isn’t your typical power forward.
Besides entering the state tournament second on her team in rebounding (5.1 per game) and blocked shots (31), the 6-foot junior was far and away the Hawkettes’ leader in assists (126) and steals (67). In fact, Nikkila already owns St. Cecilia’s single-season assists record.
“Sometimes I like to drive and kick it out when I don’t have the shot,” said Nikkila, who scored 14 points and had two assists in Friday’s 52-42 C-2 semifinal win over Hershey. “I know we have a lot of great shooters on our team who can do it better than I can, so I just look to kick it out to them.”
No letting up
Although his team posted a 26-point victory over Homer in the district final, Crofton coach Aaron Losing said he wasn’t concerned about his team being overconfident for Friday’s rematch in the Class C-2 semifinals at Pershing Center.
“Our girls understood that the last time we played (Homer), we played about as clean and as perfect of a game as we could’ve played,” Losing said. “Everything went in for us that night. We were prepared for a game today where if the shots didn’t fall and we didn’t play perfect basketball, we were going to have to grind out a win.”
No. 1-rated Crofton (26-0) hit 3 of 16 shots from the floor in the first quarter, but shot 51.6 percent (16 of 31) over the final three quarters in a 54-36 victory over the second-rated Lady Knights (24-4).
The attendance for the state tournament Friday was 18,655 — a small increase from the second-day crowd of last year. The two-day total is 44,762, compared with 48,019 in 2012 and 41,806 over the first two tournament days in 2011. Friday’s breakdown:
Devaney Center — Morning session: 3,074; afternoon session: 3,085; evening session: 5,436. Total: 11,595.
Pershing Center — Morning: 2,371; afternoon: 2,116; evening: 2,573. Total: 7,060.
Friday total — 18,655. Two-day total: 44,762.
— Mike Patterson and Terry Douglass