Hartington Cedar Catholic vs Pierce

PIERCE — For the third straight season, Crofton will take on West Point Guardian Angels Central Catholic in the Mid-State Conference girls basketball tournament championship game.

This time around, the teams took contrasting paths to reach the title tilt.

No. 2-seeded Crofton came back from a 15-point deficit late in the first half against third-seeded Hartington Cedar Catholic, as Crofton scored the first six points of the fourth quarter, took the lead for good with 4:57 left, and hung on to win 55-50.

In the opener, GACC scored the first seven points and led throughout in defeating host Pierce 41-29.

"It's always a new group every year, so to get to the finals with the conference that we're in, that's not an easy task," GACC coach Jerry Stracke said.

Crofton found itself nursing a 52-50 lead going into the final minute after the Warriors missed two free throws and Cedar Catholic grabbed the rebound.

But a turnover moments later led to a foul, and Ellie Tramp hit the second of two free throws with 46.2 seconds left. Cedar Catholic had another chance to tie or cut the lead after that, but Tramp intercepted the inbounds pass, leading to two Jaida Allen free throws with 24.2 seconds left for the final margin.

"I think that's awesome to see, when you see your team step up and decide that they do want to play in the big moment and they want to actually perform in the big moment," Crofton coach Maggie Moon said. "A lot of leadership was shown tonight by different players, and we haven't really been in a game like that this year yet."

Crofton has been a member of the Mid-State Conference for 11 years. Thursday's win ensured that the Warriors will play in the conference tournament championship for the 11th straight season. In that time, Crofton has won seven league titles.

"You still have to learn how to win big games like this," Cedar Catholic coach Craig Wortmann said. "This is a big game for us, and for them, and you have to learn how to do that. We're getting there. We've had a couple of big games when we're right there at the end, but we just can't push it over the hump, so we've got to figure out a way to do that."

That's part of what made Cedar Catholic's start so surprising. The Trojans led 15-3 with 1:17 left in the first quarter, and stretched their lead to as much as 30-15 with 1:11 left in the first half despite being held scoreless for 2 1/2 minutes to begin the second quarter.

Throughout the first three quarters, whenever Crofton made a run to get within five or six points, Cedar Catholic was there to respond.

Makenna Noecker was a big reason why. The senior finished with a game-high 27 points, including a conventional 3-point play before a basket by Katelyn Arens and then two Noecker free throws followed by Katy Jones' layup resulted in a 44-34 lead in the final minute of the third quarter.

"She really got into a groove," Wortmann said. "We've been messing with box-and-ones for the last three to four weeks, and we didn't see one tonight, so that gave her a little bit more freedom to move the way she usually does."

But when it mattered most — in the fourth quarter — Crofton's defense held Noecker scoreless, and the Warriors took advantage of foul trouble affecting the Trojans.

"It was an intensity adjustment," Moon said. "I think that the girls needed to wake up as far as just how hard we were playing, and the mistakes that we were making weren't us. We didn't change anything as far as X's and O's. It was just that we needed to finish and put the ball in the hoop."

Caitlin Guenther scored the first six points of the fourth quarter, including four free throws, to put the Warriors within 44-42.

Sammie Allen's steal and layup tied the game with 5:35 left before Tramp's conventional 3-point play, which also resulted in Laney Kathol fouling out for Cedar Catholic, gave Crofton a 49-46 lead with 4:57 left.

Melayna McGregor hit a driving layup for the Trojans, and Bailey Hochstein followed with the front end of a 1-and-1 to tie it less than 45 seconds later. Crofton took the lead for good on two Tramp free throws with 3:12 to play.

The teams combined for 68 free-throw attempts, with Crofton making 27 of 45 while Cedar Catholic hit 19 of 23. The Trojans were 15 of 24 from the field, including 9 of 12 in the first half, while the Warriors were 13 of 39.

Tramp finished with 20 points and four steals, while Lexi Wiebelhaus had 13 points, five rebounds and four steals, and Sammie Allen had 10 points.

"It was a team effort, obviously," Moon said.

TO BEGIN THE night, GACC scored the game's first seven points and never trailed in pushing past host Pierce.

"I think it was huge because it's easier to play with the lead than coming from behind because you have to exert so much energy (to come back)," Stracke said. "They closed the gap a lot, but our girls hung in there."

Pierce got to within 15-13 after a Skylar Scholting drive to the basket with 3:43 left in the second quarter, but it was held scoreless for the next seven minutes — enough time for GACC to manufacture a 23-13 lead less than two minutes into the second half.

That was the largest lead until a 10-2 run to start the fourth quarter, a stretch which was punctuated by Brynn Baumert's 3-point play with 4:05 left for a 37-23 lead.

"Anytime you have to play catch-up against a good team, it's going to be a rough go," Pierce coach Darren Sindelar said. "Our kids battled back. ... At times, we showed that we could play at that level. We're not at that consistent level yet."

Baumert led a balanced GACC attack with 13 points, while Isabel Hass chipped in 11. GACC hit 11 of 18 free throws to go with 13 of 33 field goals.

Hadley Wragge led Pierce with nine points, while Ava Knox had eight. Pierce was 12 of 25 from the field, but hit just 3 of 9 free throws.

Just two nights earlier, Pierce scored 55 points and defeated Norfolk Catholic by 24.

"Obviously, we had some shots early against Norfolk Catholic that gave us momentum. Tonight, the shots just didn't fall, so we got behind early and then we had to play catch-up," Sindelar said.

Crofton 55, Cedar Catholic 50

Cedar Catholic 15 16 13 6 — 50

Crofton 7 11 18 19 — 55

HARTINGTON CEDAR CATHOLIC (15-5): Bailey Hochstein 0-0 1-2 1, Makenna Noecker 8-12 10-12 27, Katy Jones 3-5 5-6 11, Samantha Pick 0-1 0-0 0, Laney Kathol 1-1 1-1 3, Katelyn Arens 1-1 0-0 2, Melayna McGregor 1-1 0-0 2, Lauren Bernecker 0-0 0-0 0, Addison Walter 1-3 2-2 4. Totals: 15-24 19-23 50.

CROFTON (18-1): Cassie Allen 0-6 3-5 3, Sammie Allen 4-15 2-4 10, Lexi Wiebelhaus 3-5 6-12 13, Jordyn Arens 0-0 1-2 1, Jaida Allen 0-1 2-2 2, Kaylee Mauch 0-1 0-0 0, Caitlin Guenther 1-3 4-4 6, Ellie Tramp 5-8 9-16 20. Totals: 13-39 27-45 55.

GACC 41, Pierce 29

Pierce 5 8 8 8 — 29

GACC 13 5 9 14 — 41

PIERCE (13-7): Hadley Wragge 4-4 1-5 9, Aubrey Hanson 0-1 0-0 0, Emily Endorf 0-0 0-0 0, Abbie Cone 1-1 1-2 3, Madelyn Hanson 0-1 0-0 0, Ava Knox 3-6 1-2 8, Morgan Moeller 2-5 0-0 5, Skylar Scholting 2-7 0-0 4. Totals: 12-25 3-9 29.

GUARDIAN ANGELS CENTRAL CATHOLIC (17-1): Isabel Hass 4-9 2-4 11, Izzy Kreikemeier 0-1 0-0 0, Adyson Luebbert 1-4 4-9 6, Kate Jansen 0-2 0-0 0, Jocelynn Skoda 1-1 0-0 2, Reese Throener 3-5 0-0 6, Kennedy Baumert 0-1 0-0 0, Brynn Baumert 3-7 5-5 13, Kelsy Steffen 1-3 0-0 3. Totals: 13-33 11-18 41.

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