WAYNE — Twice on Thursday, teams from Pierce and Auburn tangled in the Great Northeast Nebraska Shootout championship games. Both times, the Bulldogs bounced past the Bluejays, but in contrasting styles.
In the girls game, Pierce had a pair of chances in the final seconds after rallying from an 11-point deficit but was dealt a 39-36 defeat.
“I really feel that we have a lot of potential,” Pierce girls coach Darren Sindelar said. “We’ve just got to continue to believe in ourselves.”
Pierce’s boys led for 17 seconds of the second quarter against two-time defending state champion Auburn, but a scoring drought over the ensuing 5½ minutes was enough for the Bulldogs to take control en route to sending the Bluejays to a 52-41 setback.
“I’m really happy with how we competed with them,” Pierce boys coach Mike Emory said. “Overall, I thought we played pretty well. We took care of the ball for the most part (and) I’m very happy with our effort.”
The girls contest was a slow start for both teams as neither made a field goal for more than 4½ minutes to begin, but they made up for it with drama at the end.
Pierce made just one field goal in just over eight minutes of the second half but still drew to within 31-26 after Abbi Meier's short shot in the paint with 5:53 to go.
“I thought our kids really fought in the fourth quarter,” Sindelar said. “When they got down a little bit in that third quarter, they could have packed it in and went home, but our kids found a way to put themselves in a position at the end of the game to either tie it or win it.”
But, as it had all game, Auburn struck back — this time with a corner 3-pointer by Olivia Swanson. Pierce had a chance to cut the gap again on a fast break, but a missed layup and a missed 3-pointer off an inbounds play led to a midrange jumper from Sydney Binder for Auburn.
An impact freshman, Binder led the Bulldogs with 16 points.
“She’s just a steadying force for us,” Auburn coach Grant Cole said. “She’s a freshman, but she has so much composure. She doesn’t play like a freshman at times. She gets us in the right spots, gets everybody set up, keeps them relaxed and then she’s a playmaker when we need her to be.”
Pierce pulled to within seven moments later when Alexus Sindelar drilled a corner 3 opposite her team's bench with 3:54 to play. The Bluejays got to within two possessions with 2:13 left when Payten Simmons hit the first of two free throws, but with only three team fouls, Pierce had no choice but to foul to stop the clock.
It worked. Auburn missed the front end of a one-and-one with just over a minute to play, and Kenzie Moeller dished out to younger sister Morgan for a 3 from the right elbow, followed by a Pierce timeout, with 53.6 seconds to play, to cut it to 36-33.
Pierce nearly then forced a turnover, but a timeout was called before Auburn lost possession. Binder followed by hitting both ends of a one-and-one with 48.7 seconds left. Pierce missed a tough shot inside, but Jaeleigh Darnell missed the front end of her one-and-one chance on the next possession.
Morgan Moeller, who had a game-high 17 points, followed with a 3 with 16 seconds left, and then the Bluejays got another big break when the Bulldogs missed two free throws with 12 seconds left.
“We hit some big shots,” coach Sindelar said. “Morgan Moeller hit a couple of 3s, and they missed some free throws at the end. That obviously helped. We had our opportunities in the end.”
Unfortunately for Pierce, it couldn’t quite take advantage of the opportunity when it missed twice from close range — a layup and a putback try — and Auburn added another free throw with a second on the clock.
The second free throw, however, was missed, giving Pierce enough time for a desperation heave. The baseball-style shot from three-quarters court bounced off the backboard and barely missed the rim. That allowed Auburn to continue its unbeaten start at 8-0.
“We’re a very young basketball team. We’re a very inexperienced basketball team,” Cole said. “We’re continuing to get better. The more we can continue to put ourselves in those situations, late in games like that — and then learning how to win games late. It’s huge for us going forward to win a game like that.”
PIERCE SCORED seven of the first nine points of the second quarter in the boys game, and the Bluejays looked prime to give back-to-back Class C1 champion Auburn a serious upset threat 10 minutes into Thursday’s game.
Abram Scholting started the spurt with a 3-pointer near the left elbow, and then Dawson Watts and Ben Brahmer each scored in a span of 43 seconds to answer Daniel Frary’s bucket in the paint. Brahmer, who was the only Bluejay in double figures with a game-high 19 points, hit a short jumper to put Pierce in front 20-19 with 5:57 to go in the first half.
“We told the kids today they had a chance to make a statement across the state, playing the No. 1 team in the state,” Emory said. “I thought we answered the bell and gave them everything they wanted for four quarters.”
But just like that, the Bluejays’ offense couldn’t take flight. Cameron Binder’s 3-pointer with 5:40 on the clock swung the momentum and started an 11-0 scoring stretch in which Pierce was held without a point for 5:32. The only drip of momentum the rest of the half was a goaltending call that put Pierce within six at halftime.
“That was a big win for us,” Auburn coach Jim Weeks said. “That’s a good team, a good win for us.”
One of three Binders in the starting lineup, Cameron had 18 points while cousin Ryan added 11. Maverick Binder scored six points, and Frary joined the trio with 13.
“The thing about preparing for Wayne (on Wednesday) and preparing for Pierce is it makes you better just in preparation by watching them,” Weeks said. “The game is important, but so is the preparation. You’ve got to be ready to go. They expose you on defense and offense. The preparation was really important.”
While the Bulldogs led almost the entire game, Pierce never let Auburn pull away as the Bluejays kept the gap in single digits until free throws in the final minute. Auburn enjoyed 19 of 27 free-throw shooting, while Pierce attempted only four.
“They’re going to make free throws at the end,” Emory said. “It’s hard to come back from behind with them.”
Auburn 7 8 16 8 — 39
Pierce 3 7 11 15 — 36
AUBURN (8-0): Leah Grant 0 1-5 1; Harmony Franke 1 0-0 2; Jamisyn Kirkpatrick 1 0-0 3; Olivia Swanson 2 0-0 5; Sydney Binder 6 2-2 16; Jaeleigh Darnell 4 4-7 12. Totals: 14 7-14 39.
PIERCE (6-3): Gina Wragge 1 0-0 2; Payten Simmons 0 1-2 1; Kenzie Moeller 1 4-5 6; Alexus Sindelar 1 0-0 3; Morgan Moeller 5 4-6 17; Abby Meier 2 3-4 7. Totals: 10 12-17 36.
Auburn 17 11 11 14 — 53
Pierce 13 9 12 7 — 41
AUBURN (7-0): Cameron Binder 3 10-10 18; Maverick Binder 1 3-4 6; Ryan Binder 3 2-4 11; Cade Patzel 1 1-2 3; Daniel Frary 5 3-7 13; Bret Baltensperger 1 0-0 2. Totals: 14 19-27 53.
PIERCE (7-2): David Dale 2 0-1 4; Tyler Race 1 1-1 3; Ben Brahmer 8 1-2 19; Dawson Watts 4 0-0 9; Chaden Roth 1 0-0 3; Abram Scholting 1 0-0 3. Totals: 17 2-4 41.