LINCOLN — Having led almost the entire game, Bellevue West refused to surrender that advantage late in its girls state basketball tournament semifinal Friday against Omaha Central.
As a result, the top-ranked Thunderbirds will be playing for the Class A championship Saturday. And the defending champion Eagles will need to wait until next year.
Junior center Kate Liveringhouse scored 18 points and pulled down 12 rebounds to lead Bellevue West to a 53-50 win at the Devaney Center. The Thunderbirds advance to play Lincoln Southeast at 1 p.m. Saturday while Central will play Millard West in a 10 a.m. third-place game at Lincoln East.
“It’s an adrenaline rush, that’s for sure,” Bellevue West coach Marc Kruger said. “I’m so proud of these girls.”
The Thunderbirds held the upper hand throughout most of the game, though Central grabbed a one-point advantage early in the fourth quarter. Bellevue West reclaimed the lead with the help of Liveringhouse and freshman forward Chloe Akin-Otiko — a duo who combined for 12 of the Thunderbirds’ 13 fourth-quarter points.
Kruger’s squad held a four-point lead with a minute left and appeared to be in good shape, but free-throw woes gave the Eagles life. The Thunderbirds missed the front end of three 1-and-1 opportunities down the stretch, including one with 17 seconds left and Bellevue West clinging to a 52-50 lead.
Central rebounded the miss and had a chance to tie the game, but a shot by Elexis Martinez failed to drop. Bellevue West got the ball back and senior guard Elisha Cobbs was fouled with 5.4 seconds left.
She missed the first attempt but made the second, giving the Thunderbirds a 53-50 lead. The Eagles got off one last shot, but it bounced off the rim, giving Bellevue West the victory.
“I think our conditioning prepared us for a game like this,” Liveringhouse said. “It was really flustering when we missed those late free throws, but I’m just so happy we were able to hang on.”
While those missed free throws almost cost the Thunderbirds, the Eagles also could point to their own frustrations at the line. Central made just 10 of 24 foul shots and 5 of 11 in the second half.
Madi Braun scored 11 points for Bellevue West while Akin-Otiko and Annie Szczepaniak had nine each.
Senior guard Sylvia Smith-Gatson led the Eagles with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Kruger, in his first season as the Thunderbirds’ head coach, said his team would be ready for Saturday’s championship game against Southeast. The Knights were impressive in the first semifinal Friday, rolling past Millard West 67-48.
“We worked too hard to get here not to be ready,” he said. “We’ll give it everything we’ve got.”
Om. Central (20-6)......................................14 16 8 12 — 50
Bellevue West (27-1)....................................19 13 8 13 — 53
OC: Megan Gamble 2, Paige Muhammad 4, Elexis Martinez 8, LaNa'e Washington-Carson 3, Abigail Niebrugge 6, Sylvia Smith-Gatson 19, Sydney McGruder 8.
BW: Elisha Cobbs 4, Madi Braun 11, Annie Szczepaniak 9, Taylor Ditoro 2, Chloe Akin-Otiko 9, Kate Liveringhouse 18.
Officials: Maschman, Boesinger, O'Neal.
Contact the writer:
402-444-1350, firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/MPattersonOWH
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>> Video: See Bellevue West-Omaha Central game highlights: