LINCOLN — With 6.4 seconds left in the Class C1 state championship game, North Bend Central's Sydney Emanuel sank two free throws to break a tie. The Tigers then hustled back on defense to defend as Hastings St. Cecilia's Bailey Kissinger drove for the hoop.
Kissinger had scored 33 points up to that point, but her running layup high off the glass at the buzzer bounced off the rim and the Tigers held on for a 51-49 victory and their second consecutive Class C1 state title.
"I was real proud of the grit they showed at the end," North Bend Central coach Aaron Sterup said. "Even when a couple of things went bad in the fourth quarter, they stuck with it."
It was a battle of defending state champions — North Bend won last year's C1 title while St. Cecilia took the C2 championship — and the play on the court was indicative of two well-coached championship-caliber teams.
St. Cecilia pushed the pace to open the game. The Bluehawks' 6-foot-2-inch center, Adeline Kirkegaard, posted up and found success with a pair of turnaround jumpers and Kissinger cut and drove her way to the basket to convert a couple of contested layups and a free throw.
Meanwhile, North Bend's Emanuel sisters, Sydney and Kaitlyn, attacked the basket at every opportunity, drawing 21 St. Cecilia fouls that would be a key to the game's outcome.
St. Cecilia led 15-12 after one quarter and for most of the second until senior guard Hannah Williams drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:40 left in the first half to give the Tigers their first lead of the day at 23-21.
The Bluehawks took back the advantage on back-to-back buckets by Kissinger, but North Bend tied it at the half when St. Cecilia's Erin Sheehy fouled Sydney Emanuel at the buzzer. Emanuel made two free throws with no time on the clock to tie the game at 25.
St. Cecilia dominated the third quarter. With the Bluehawks leading 30-27, North Bend's Kaitlyn Emanuel missed a layup, Kissinger followed with a cutting left-handed kiss off the glass on the other end. The four-point swing had St. Cecilia on top 32-27.
North Bend continued to battle and Kaitlyn Emanuel's free throw made it 36-30, St. Cecilia, before Kissinger scored two regular field goals and a 3-pointer in the final minute and 15 seconds of the quarter to send the game into the fourth period with the Bluehawks on top 43-32.
The Tigers fought back in the fourth quarter primarily by attacking the basket, getting fouled and going to the free throw line, where they converted 21 of 25 for the game and 14 of 15 in the final eight minutes alone.
"We certainly work on free throws a lot," Sterup said. "But that's just having a lot of poise, having confidence in yourself."
Meanwhile, the Tigers held St. Cecilia to just one point in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter while scoring 12 themselves, all but two from the line. Two Sydney Emanuel free throws with 2:54 left tied the game at 44.
"Eleven points down starting the fourth quarter is not how you draw it up, certainly," Sterup said. "But we certainly knew we had it in us to make a run like that."
Kissinger then gave the lead back to St. Cecilia with 1:47 left. Her driving layup and one put the Bluehawks on top 47-44.
Sydney Emanuel's two free throws pulled the Tigers back to within one before another Kissinger drive and layup put St. Cecilia up by three again with 55 seconds left.
The Tigers then set up their offense and Sydney Emanuel found her sister Kaitlyn open on the right wing for a 3-pointer. The North Bend crowd went wild as the Tigers and Bluehawks were tied at 49.
"Sydney passed it to me and she gave me this look and I saw it in her eyes and I just threw it up there and I guess it went in," Kaitlyn Emanuel said.
St. Cecilia had the ball and a chance to regain the lead, but a Kissinger shot missed. Kaitlyn Emanuel rebounded for North Bend but was whistled for traveling.
The Bluehawks had a second chance that also missed, this time Sydney Emanuel rebounded and was tripped by St. Cecilia's Tatum Kirkac. The foul with 6.4 seconds left on the clock put Emanuel on the line, who completed a 12 for 12 day from the charity stripe by making them both and giving the Tigers the 51-49 lead.
"I tried to take it back to practice where sometimes I set up like fake scenarios, like, if you make these two, you win the state championship and things like that, so that's what was kind of going through my head," Sydney Emanuel said.
Her coach had great confidence in his star. "We had no doubt Sydney was going to make those free throws," Sterup said.
North Bend then braced for one more assault from Kissinger, who missed the mark on her layup attempt and sent the orange and black into celebration mode.
"I was right there and one of my teammates was right with her,” North Bend's Cierra Kluthe said. "And I just stood straight up and was like, 'Don't foul her, but try to get in her way.' I think she was expecting contact."
"We had some things go our way," Sterup said. "But good teams make those things happen, and it's a credit to them because they don't have any quit in them and I'm really proud of them."
Only three St. Cecilia players scored in the game, as the Bluehawks were led by Kissinger's 33. Meanwhile, the Emanuels scored all but 12 of North Bend's points. Sydney poured in 20 while Kaitlyn added 19.
St. Cecilia, a perennial power, ended its season at 24-3 and will almost certainly be back to championship form in 2022. The Bluehawks lose just one senior, Katharine Hamburger, who did not score in the title game.
North Bend Central also closed with a 24-3 mark and, likewise, should have a good chance to challenge for a three-peat. The Tigers say goodbye to four seniors —Kluthe, Kendyl Boyce, Hannah Williams and Ally Pojar — who combined to average 18 points a game, but both Sydney and Kaitlyn Emanuel will return.
Class C1 state championship game
North Bend Central 12 13 7 19 — 51
Hastings St. Cecilia 15 10 18 6 — 49
NORTH BEND CENTRAL (24-3): Hannah Williams 1-3 0-2 3 Ally Pojar 2-2 1-2 5; Kaitlyn Emanuel 6-19 6-9 19; Cierra Kluthe 1-11 2-2 4; Sydney Emanuel 4-15 12-12 20; Madelyn Gaughen 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 14-51 21-27 51.
HASTINGS ST. CECILIA (24-3): Erin Sheehy 0-2 0-0 0; Bailey Kissinger 14-30 4-8 33; Shaye Butler 2-2 2-2 6; Tatum Kirkac 0-1 0-0 0; Adeline Kirkegaard 5-8 0-0 10; Katharine Hamburger 0-1 0-0 0; Totals 21-44 6-10 49.