Lutheran High Northeast’s coach Kenny Blank earned the first win of his career Saturday afternoon, but the victory required an extra period before the Eagles came out on top of Guardian Angels Central Catholic 66-57.

Earlier, in the girls game, the Bluejays used a strong finish that began late in the third period to defeat Lutheran High 55-38.

“It feels good, kind of a relief, to get that monkey off my back and get the season started for the boys, too, after Thursday night,” Blank said. 

The Eagles got off to a slow start offensively against the Guardian Angels’ 1-3-1 zone defense, falling behind 9-0 before Jaxson Kant broke the ice with a free throw, but Lutheran High didn’t score its first field goal until Brady Jackson’s offensive rebound-putback with two-and-a-half minutes remained in the opening quarter.

“I don’t know what it was; we just came out a little flat and they got on us. We had to take an early timeout,” Blank said. “We weren’t scoring offensively, so maybe that was caused by flashbacks to our struggles against the zone on Thursday.”

The Bluejays maintained their 11-5 first period advantage, even as the Eagles were finding enough offense to trail just 21-18 at the half.

But it was in the third quarter that Lutheran High seemingly took over the game--using an inspired defensive effort to spark aggressive offensive execution that resulted in a 13-0 run during the first four minutes to build a 31-21 lead.

“At halftime I was thinking we were lucky to only be down three; we told the boys that, made a few adjustments, and just tried to get them to be aggressive,” Blank said. “I wanted them to be decisive. I felt like in the first half we were being passive and being just a split-second late on passing or shooting or cutting. We just wanted to come out and take it to them a little bit.”

“We want our defense to create offense for us; that’s what needs to happen for us to be successful this year,” he said. “I thought they took that message at halftime and locked in.”

The Eagles’ run began with a crisp cut to the basket by Jaxson Kant for points, and the next 11 points came from Ben Gebhardt.

After keeping an offensive possession alive by tipping a missed shot to Jackson on the perimeter, Gebhardt scored on a backdoor lob on a return pass from Jackson, then scored on a free throw, consecutive 3s, and a steal converted into a layup for the 10-point advantage.

In the final minutes of the period, Gebhardt added a three-point play on a drive and Grant Colligan drained a 3 from the wing to counter eight GACC points and maintain the Lutheran High lead at 38-29.

The teams played an even fourth quarter until the Bluejays come-from-behind effort began with just over three minutes remaining in regulation.

“Determination allowed us to get back into the game. A lot of these guys played a lot of minutes the last couple years,” GACC coach Alex Stieren said. “We always tell them the first three minutes of the second half is the most important; when I took that timeout I told them that those three minutes are over and the next three minutes are yours--and we have to push hard. I think we did that all the way through the fourth quarter.”

Two drives to the basket in transition by Brendan Rief, five points by Casey Doernemann following GACC steals, and a free throw by Cody Steffen completed a 10-0 run before the Eagles scored their final point of regulation on a Trystan Scott free throw to cling to a 51-49 lead. The tying field goal came on a jumper from the left elbow by Doernemann with 12 seconds left.

“We kind of got out of rhythm, they hit some shots, their defense picked up and we turned the ball over,” Blank said. “That let them back in it, but we made a lot of plays in overtime to win.”

In the extra period Doernemann answered a field goal by Gebhardt and a free throw by Kant with baskets inside for a 55-54 Bluejays lead, but Lutheran High outscored GACC 12-4 the rest of the way for the victory.

Kant started the flurry with a drive and Tanner Koss followed with a 3 from the point to provide the Eagles with a 59-55 lead. After Doernemann scored the Bluejays’ final field goal, Lutheran High sealed the win with four free throws by Cort McKeown and three from Koss for the 66-57 final score.

Gebhardt finished with 20 points--making 8-of-10 field goals--while Kant added 18 points for the Eagles.

The GACC offense was paced by Ben Ulrich’s 13 points and Rief’s 10, along with Doernemann, who came off the bench to score 11 points, all in the second half.

The girls game featured teams attempting a similar strategy--incorporating full court pressure and half-court zone defense--which produced a game filled with turnovers and shooting woes by both teams.

“I think we both had problems with each other’s speed and quickness; we hadn’t played anyone who had applied that much pressure on us,” GACC coach Jerry Stracke said. “I don’t think they were necessarily bad shots that we took, and usually we knock them down, but give that credit to their defense putting pressure on us. They’re athletic, so they gave us all kinds of fits.”

Lutheran High had led 13-3 before the Bluejays finished the first quarter by making 7-of-10 free throws to trail 13-10 and then, in the second period, the teams were tied three times, the last at 24-all, when GACC took its first lead of the game on a 3 by Livia Hunke and held on for a 29-26 halftime advantage.

But it was the Bluejays’ 16-0 run that began late in the third, after Lutheran High’s Leah Sugita scored on a three-point play and a drive to give the Eagles their last lead of the game at 33-32 and Mia Furst added a basket inside, that led GACC to victory. 

Brenna Rief made a 3 that tied the score at 35-all, then followed that with a field goal for a 37-35 lead entering the final period. But the run continued in the fourth quarter with baskets by Marissa Hunke, Sophia Hass, Erica Engelmeyer--and two more by Rief--that increased the Bluejays lead to 48-35 before Lutheran High’s first point of the period came on a free throw by Lutheran High’s Kendra Rosberg with four minutes remaining, and GACC outscored the Eagles 7-2 the rest of the way to close out the 55-38 win.

Hass and Engelmeyer led the Bluejays--who made just 18-of-59 field goals attempts (30 percent)--in scoring with 16 and 14 points, respectively, while Chloe Spence paced Lutheran High with nine points. The Eagles made 13 of their 56 field goal tries (23 percent), including just one of 16 3-point attempts.

“I’m still happy with our defense. If we shoot 30 percent in that game we’re right there, but our 3-point shooting has to get better,” Lutheran High coach Mike Wiederin said. “We had a tough time inside; we were trying interior passing too often. We had talked about going inside with the ball, but we said you can’t throw the ball across the lane from one side to the other. They were too long and too athletic, and they steal the ball.”

Boys game

Guardian Angels Central Catholic 11 10 8 22 (6) -- 57

Lutheran High Northeast 5 15 20 13 (15) -- 66

GACC (0-2): Brendan Rief 5-7 0-1 10, Nate Niewohner 3-10 0-0 6, Tobias Steffensmeier 2-7 0-0 4, Ben Ulrich 3-12 6-9 13, Reese Schlecht 0-2 0-0 0, Cody Steffen 2-4 2-8 6, Blake Pojar 1-4 0-0 3, Adam Reeson 1-5 0-0 2, Casey Doernemann 5-8 1-2 11. Totals: 22-59 9-20 57.

LHNE (1-1): Cort McKeown 0-2 8-10 8, Brady Jackson 1-2 0-0 2, Grant Colligan 1-2 0-0 3, Ben Gebhardt 8-10 2-7 20, Tanner Koss 3-7 3-8 11, Jaxson Kant 5-9 8-12 18, Trystan Scott 1-3 1-2 4. Totals: 29-48 22-39 66.

Girls game

Guardian Angels Central Catholic 10 19 8 18 -- 55

Lutheran High Northeast 13 13 9 3 -- 38

GACC (2-0): Sophia Hass 3-9 10-12 16, Livia Hunke 1-5 0-1 3, Marissa Hunke 2-8 0-0 6, Kate Gnad 0-1 0-0 0, Brenna Rief 5-15 2-2 14, Erica Engelmeyer 3-5 0-0 6, Kassidy Kaup 1-8 0-4 2, Reese Throener 1-1 0-0 3, Greta Wooldrik 2-5 1-3 5, Brynn Baumert 0-3 0-0 0, Brandi Doernemann 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 18-59 13-26 55.

LHNE (1-1): Lauren Buhrman 1-8 3-4 5, Morgan Holdorf 0-1 0-0 0, Mia Furst 4-8 1-1 8, Chloe Spence 3-14 2-4 9, Becca Gebhardt 1-6 4-4 6, Mia Wiederin 0-5 0-0 0, Kendra Rosberg 1-3 1-2 3, Avery Koeppe 0-1 0-0 0, Leah Sugita 3-11 1-3 7, Shayla Raeside 0-0 0-1 0. Totals: 13-56 11-17 38. 

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