Millard West celebrated its last-minute comeback in the Class A-2 girls district final by cutting down the nets at both ends of its home court.
“It's good to cut down our own nets,” Millard West's Samantha Waldron said.
Waldron was the main reason the Wildcats were celebrating. The 5-foot-11 junior scored 14 of her 17 points in the game's final three minutes as Millard West erased a 12-point deficit to stun Kearney 54-53 Saturday.
Waldron capped that rally by making two free throws with 5.1 seconds left for the 54-53 lead — Millard West's first lead since midway through the third quarter.
“We've been working on free throws a lot, so I was ready for that,” said Waldron, who had been 1 of 3 at the line on the day.
“She's really a composed person. Nothing seems to rattle her,” Wildcats coach Kip Colony said. “I had a good feeling when one of our best players was on the line.”
The win sends second-ranked Millard West (24-4) to the state tournament in Lincoln, which begins Thursday morning. Kearney ends its season at 17-11 and left the Bearcats in disbelief.
“We were trying to run clock, but once (Millard West) started with their trap, we couldn't run anything,” Kearney coach Jason Boyd said. “They were aggressive and didn't give up, you have to give them credit. They fought like crazy and got a remarkable win, considering the circumstances. To me right now, it seems unbelievable.”
It seemed unbelievable because late in the third quarter, Kearney had grabbed control of a game that had gone back and forth — there were six lead changes and five ties through the first 2½ quarters.
Kelsey Wiemers scored the last six points of the third quarter to give Kearney a 38-31 lead. Wiemers, who led all scorers with 20 points, scored 14 in the third quarter with an array of shots around the basket.
Kearney stretched its lead to 45-33 when Wiemers made a layup with six minutes left. The lead was 49-37 with 2:50 left when Waldron took over.
She hit a 3-pointer from the left corner, and when she hit another trey with 1:09 left, Kearney's lead was cut to 51-48. Waldron then scored in the lane with 55 seconds left.
Kearney's Gretchen Mak answered with a layup with 38 seconds left, but Waldron scored on a putback to make it 53-52 with 22 seconds left.
Kearney then turned the ball over against Millard West's press, and on the Wildcats' possession, Waldron was fouled on the low block and made both free throws.
“We had to put pressure on (Kearney) and attack the rim a little more than we had,” Colony said of his team's comeback. “The kids persevered.”
Kearney could only put up a desperation half-court shot that was well off the mark at the buzzer. But Boyd lauded his team for their play in a must-win situation.
“Our kids played a heck of a game and took it to one of the best teams in the state most of the game,” Boyd said.
Kearney (17-11)................................16 5 17 15—53
At Millard West (24-4).........................12 11 8 23—54
K: Gretchen Mak 4-10 0-0 10, Kelsey Wiemers 7-14 6-8 20, Claire Sickler 1-3 2-3 5, Kelsey Stithem 4-7 0-1 12, Skyler Snider 0-2 2-4 2, Payton Cudaback 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 18-39 10-16 53.
MW: Paige Phipps 1-4 0-0 2, Samantha Waldron 6-10 3-5 17, Brooke Savage 4-10 0-0 9, Dani Saenz 5-8 1-2 14, Marisa Lowe 1-8 0-0 3, Kaci German 1-1 3-3 5, Jaylin Bosak 1-3 0-0 2, Kate Suelter 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 19-45 9-12 54.
3-point goals: K 7-20 (Stithem 4-6, Mak 2-8, Sickler 1-2, Cudaback 0-1, Wiemers 0-3); MW 7-22 (Saenz 3-6, Waldron 2-4, Savage 1-4, Lowe 1-7, Phipps 0-1). Rebounds: K 25 (Cudaback 8); MW 28 (Waldron 6). Turnovers: K 17, MW 18. Total fouls: K 14, MW 17. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: None. Att.: 900 (est.).
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