Class D No. 1 Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family's loss in last year's Class D1 state semifinal to Southern Valley has served as a good motivator for this season's Bulldog squad. 

"The Sjuts twins (6-foot-5-inch juniors Jason and Jacob) didn't take a lot of days off," coach Joe Hesse said. "If they could get in the gym, they got in the gym. If they could go to a court, they went to a court. They were playing in their driveway. They have logged an awful lot of minutes since that game."

After 14 games this season, the Bulldogs are 11-3 with all three losses coming to Class C1 schools: Auburn, Boone Central and Omaha Concordia. "We knew those games were going to be tough. They just didn't work out the way we wanted, but every one of those games, it was pretty tight at the end of the third quarter," Hesse said.

"We run into that problem a lot of D schools run into when you play C schools, is they can go a little bit farther down the bench. We just kind of ran out of gas."

Overall, Hesse said he's been pleased with the first month and a half of the season. "We've had some good games where we've looked really sharp and we had a couple of games where we didn't look really sharp and still found a way to win at the end. Credit to our kids for being able to stick with it and do that."

The Bulldogs had a big home game scheduled on Friday against two-time defending Class C2 state champion Bancroft-Rosalie/Lyons-Decatur, but it was canceled because of BRLD's struggles with the coronavirus.

However, the Wolverines are a team the Bulldogs could see in the East Husker Conference tournament, which gets underway this weekend.

"We've had better showings at the state tournament than our conference tournament," Hesse said. "A lot of big C schools in there and you know you're going to run into somebody that's pretty tough. You have to be on your A game if you want to come out on top of that one."

Defensively, the Bulldogs like to press, then drop into a 1-3-1 zone. Hesse said they've been successful making steals that have led to a lot of transition baskets.

Jason Sjuts is averaging 17 points a game and eclipsed the 1,000-point mark on Thursday during a game in Madison. "He was 22 points away, and he ended up getting 19 points in the first quarter," Hesse said.

"He and his brother Jacob, they're 6-5; they're good shooters; they're good on the inside, but Jason is probably over 40% (actually, 42%) from the 3-point line. He's just a tremendous shooter, and both of them are really good defenders, too."

Hesse added that "Jason gets most of the headlines, but Jacob — who averages 13 points a game — leads the team in about every other statistical category: blocked shots, rebounds, assists.

"We do this efficiency point tracker where all of your statistics equal a point value," Hesse said. "You can lose points for missing free throws or turning the ball over or missing shots. Typically, if your score is 20 or 30, that's a pretty good game. When we played Summerland (on Jan. 19), Jacob scored 81. He does absolutely everything for our team."

Hesse said 6-3 junior Ethan Keller (11 points per game) looks like a Wayne State football player. "We have a really nice post player that we can get the ball to, and he can score having his back to the basket," Hesse said.

"Having him allows us to play the Sjuts twins away from the basket. Even on defense in our 1-3-1, we can put another twin out on a wing and it makes us that much better.

Hesse said 5-9 point guard Jett Spier is a nice compliment to the big guys. "Even if he has a bad game offensively, he's such a good ball handler and he plays so hard on defense that there's always a spot for him on the floor."

Sophomore Sage Frauendorfer reminds Hesse a lot of himself as a player. Hesse played in high school for his father, the late and legendary Rick Hesse. "He once said this of me, 'Whenever Joe goes into the game, you don't know what's going to happen; it could be good, it could be bad.'

"Sage would be very much that same way. He just has a nose for the ball. He's always around it. Sometimes, he gets to playing too fast and sometimes he does some things that make you wonder why he's not playing more."

Hesse called Cooper Beller the team's best defender among the guards. "He's 6 feet tall and he can bother some people. He's a good ball handler. He's struggled in shooting this year, but you watch him in practice, he's really a good shooter."

The coach said he's the most excited about 6-5 junior Kyle Preister. "At the start of the year, we weren't playing him very much and he was getting a lot of JV time. Growing up, he was the kid that would go stand in the corner and shoot 3s.

"That's still what he likes to do, and we've pushed him in JV games to be a little bit more of a complete player, handle the ball, take some shots and try to create a little bit

"He's had three games where he's hit three 3s for us, so he's another guy who can stretch the floor and then on the back end of our 1-3-1, there's another 6-5 kid in the mix."

The postseason is about a month away and Hesse said the Bulldogs need to improve their half-court offense. "If we're getting turnovers in transition, we can score a lot of points in a hurry," he said, "but when we don't get those, we have to become a better half-court team.

“In that Southern Valley (state semifinal) game, that really killed us. We didn't have any transition. It was all half-court stuff and we just couldn't convert at a high enough clip. It's understanding the difference between your first shot and your best shot."

Class D

Unfortunately, COVID-19 was responsible for the cancellation of top-ranked Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family's home game against last week's Class C No. 1, BRLD. The Bulldogs did pick up wins, however, over Summerland and Madison.

No. 2 Osmond also recorded a win over Summerland along with a 48-34 triumph over Bloomfield, and O'Neill St. Mary's remained third following lopsided wins over Santee and Winside.

Howells-Dodge picked up a pair of victories over lower-tier East Husker teams and remained fifth while Laurel-Concord-Coleridge moved from sixth to fifth after a convincing win over Hartington-Newcastle and narrow loss to Class C1 Battle Creek.

Walthill dropped one spot to sixth after losing for just the second time this season, a 62-47 setback at Lutheran High Northeast. The Blujays responded with victories over Homer and Ponca.

Wynot hasn't played since Jan. 15 but has a big test slated for Tuesday night at home against Walthill, and Humphrey St. Francis remained eighth after falling 53-50 to undefeated Burwell in the final of the Goldenrod Conference tournament.

Creighton is 11-3 and heads the list of the honorably mentioned. Only a sophomore, the Bulldogs' John Mitchell has already passed the 1,000-point milestone and poured in 52 against Elkhorn Valley on Friday.

Stuart, Bloomfield and Elgin Public/Pope John are the area's best of the rest in Class D.

Top games this week

Tuesday: Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family at Oakland-Craig; Walthill at Wynot; Osmond at Laurel-Concord-Coleridge; Battle Creek vs. Howells/Dodge at Howells.

Thursday: Elgin Public/Pope John at Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family; Wynot at Ponca; O'Neill St. Mary's at Stuart; Laurel-Concord-Coleridge at Wakefield.

Friday: Norfolk Catholic at Humphrey St. Francis.

Saturday: Humphrey St. Francis at Lutheran High Northeast.

CLASS C

Each of last week's top three — BRLD, North Bend Central and Wayne — lost games in the past week, which cleared the way for previous No. 4 Pierce to claim the top spot.

Coach Mike Emory's Bluejays are the clear Mid-State Conference tournament favorite after scoring a pair of lopsided victories in the past week over league foes Norfolk Catholic and Battle Creek.

Oakland-Craig moved from fifth to second following a big two-point road win over previous No. 2 North Bend Central. The Knights also lost by two to a one-loss Iowa team — Neola Tri-Center — in the Omaha Classic.

Hartington Cedar Catholic is the week's biggest mover, going from eighth to third. First, the Trojans stomped a quality Creighton side by 25 and then earned an overtime road victory over last week's No. 3, Wayne.

Wakefield had a nice week as well and moved from No. 6 to No. 4. The Trojans earned a 59-44 win over last week's No. 1 BRLD and a 17-point triumph over a quality Tri County Northeast squad.

BRLD fell from first to fifth after the loss to Wakefield. North Bend Central's loss to Oakland-Craig cost the Tigers four spots, from second to sixth, and Wayne's setback at the hands of Cedar moved the Blue Devils from third to seventh.

Norfolk Catholic rounds out the chart. The Knights fell from No. 7 to No. 8 following their loss to Pierce.

Lutheran High Northeast, Battle Creek and Boone Central are the best of the rest among Northeast and North Central Nebraska's Class C schools and are honorably mentioned.

It's conference tournament time. The East Husker is slated to begin Friday while the Mid-State, Lewis & Clark and Niobrara Valley all start with early-round action on Saturday.

Top games this week

Tuesday: Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family at Oakland-Craig; Battle Creek vs. Howells/Dodge at Howells.

Thursday: Wynot at Ponca; Laurel-Concord-Coleridge at Wakefield; O'Neill at Norfolk Catholic.

Friday: Norfolk Catholic at Humphrey St. Francis.

Saturday: Humphrey St. Francis at Lutheran High Northeast.

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