PONCA — Last season, Ponca and Hartington-Newcastle each qualified for the boys state basketball tournaments.
In fact, Ponca has gone 2-1 in state title games the past couple of years after back-to-back state championships and a third-place showing in 2019.
On opening night Thursday, the Indians sprinted to a 27-9 lead at the end of the first quarter and never really looked back, but the Wildcats never really went anywhere as Ponca came away with a 72-57 win here in Ponca.
"That is a good team," Ponca coach Adam Poulosky said. "We jumped on them early, but they kept fighting."
Bryar Bennett hit one of his three long balls to open the second period and finished with 13 points and put Ponca up 30-9 early in the frame.
Carter Kingsbury hit four 3-pointers in the opening eight minutes to build the advantage and finished with a game-high 26 points.
"Carter knows where the ball needs to go," Poulosky said. "He also knows when to kick it back out to a teammate or take the shot himself — he's always known that."
Kingsbury slammed a dunk with 4 minutes, 27 seconds left in the second to make it 34-11. Hartington-Newcastle answered with a dunk of its own by Sam Harms following a couple of Hartington-Newcastle free throws to bring the Wildcats back to within 34-15.
"I was really encouraged by the way we kept playing hard throughout the game," Hartington-Newcastle coach Nick Haselhorst said. "They got out to the lead, but once we settled in, we stayed right with them from there."
The Wildcats trailed by 19 at the half and 20 after the third before nibbling into the advantage in the fourth.
The Indians did a lot of their damage from beyond the arc as they canned 13 shots behind the line, led by Kingsbury — who splashed six by himself, including four in the Ponca 27-point opening quarter.
"We have some kids who can knock down the 3," Poulosky said. "Carter does a good job of getting his shots and taking the ball to the basket and kicking it back out to an open teammate."
Kingsbury ended the game with seven assists, four of them leading to 3-pointers.
The Ponca lead grew to 47-23 after a 3 from Cayden Phillips with 4:30 left in the stanza, but Hartington-Newcastle came charging back with an 8-2 run.
Harms made a nifty move along the baseline and another shot in the paint and Shaye Morten hit a pair of long balls of his own for the Wildcats, forcing Poulosky to call a timeout with 2:05 left.
His team responded with a 3 coming out of the timeout and the Indians pushed the lead to 20 by the end of the third.
"It was a good start for us," Poulosky said. "Hartington-Newcastle is going to win a lot of games this season. We just got on them early and stayed there; they are a very good team."
In the girls game, Ponca used a stubborn defense and an opportunistic offense to turn back the Wildcats 54-27.
"I was pleased with our effort," Ponca coach Bob Hayes said. "We executed pretty well, and some of our younger girls stepped up and performed pretty well."
Ashlyn Kingsbury tossed in 16 points for the Indians while Alyssa Crosgrove contributed 13.
H-N 9 10 15 23 — 57
P 27 11 16 18 — 72
HARTINGTON-NEWCASTLE (0-1): Shaye Morten 5 3-4 15; Jake Peitz 3 2-4 10; Zach Burcham 0 0-1 0; Dylan Dendinger 0 2-2 2; Sam Harms 6 7-9 20; Teagan Scoggan 2 2-2 6; Matt Maisenheimer 2 0-2 4.
PONCA (1-0): Cayden Phillips 4 0-2 11; Bryar Bennett 4 2-2 13; Zach Fernau 2 4-4 9; Paul Masin 1 1-2 3; Dalton Touney 0 2-2 2; Carter Kingsbury 8 4-4 26; Aden Anderson 1 2-2 4; Taylor Korth 2 0-0 4.