For the fourth time in five years, and second consecutive season, the Sandhills/Thedford Lady Knights are headed to the state tournament after defeating Mullen 41-30 in the D2-5 District Final on Friday in North Platte.

The Lady Knights’ (22-4) ticket to Lincoln didn’t come easy as they were tasked with beating Mullen (19-5) for a fourth time this season.

“You never want to play a good team four times in the same season,” Sandhills/Thedford head coach Jordan Arensdorf said. “After the first game you make adjustments, after the second game you adjust here and there, the third time is really tough and by the fourth time you about run out of ideas.”

Also looking to make a return trip to the state tournament, Mullen grabbed the early momentum when senior guard Madi Daly beat the first-quarter buzzer from half-court, giving the Broncos a 16-13 lead.

Both defenses ratcheted up their

intensity in a low-scoring second quarter and Mullen went into the locker room ahead 20-18.

“The girls had to overcome a lot of adversity in the first half. Even after Mullen hit that half-court shot, nobody panicked and they just kept at it and kept working,” Arensdorf said.

In the third quarter, Sandhills/Thedford seemed to make a concerted effort to get the ball to senior forward and leading scorer Avery Taylor, who scored three straight points on the Lady Knights’ first two possessions to give them the lead for good.

“Everyone’s been waiting for this game and we may have had some jitters. We had a rough night on offense, but as long as we stay calm and execute we’ll be fine,” Taylor said.

Taylor finished with a game-high 18 points for the Lady Knights and Rebecca Higgins added 12. Addy Vinton led Mullen with nine points and Ally Ginkens had eight.

After allowing 16 first quarter points, Sandhills/Thedford’s defense yielded only 14 over the final three quarters, which Arensdorf thinks can be a weapon in Lincoln.

“We’re second in the state in defense and that’s a credit to the girls and that’s definitely what won us the game tonight,” Arensdorf said. “[Friday] was a great example of how important defense and rebounding are. Those are two things they can control every game, because it’s all effort. We think with our defense, we can go down to state and wreak some havoc.”

As the final seconds ticked off and the horn sounded, the Lady Knights spilled onto the court, but the celebration was noticeably subdued as their goals still lie ahead.

“It’s been our goal all year to get back to state and build off what we did last year,” Avery Taylor said. “There’s going to be different teams up there this year, but we’re prepared and know what to expect. We just need to bring it, play our hardest and that’s all we can do.”

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