Three decades ago, guys such as John Schutte and Todd Erwin helped Laurel-Concord to the Northeast Nebraska Activities Conference (NENAC) boys basketball tournament championship.
Those last names should sound familiar. We’ll get to that in a minute.
“Laurel-Concord’s rugged boys (67-58) handled counterparts from Pierce in the NENAC finals Thursday night at the Creighton High School gym,” Daily News sports writer Mike Fuehrer wrote about the game that was played on Feb. 1, 1990. Laurel-Concord coach Mark Hrabik said he believed that was the school’s first conference championship since 1972.
Schutte, a 6-foot-5 senior, was 11 of 16 from the field en route to a game-high 24 points, along with six rebounds and three assists. Erwin finished with 13 points and seven assists.
“John is our money player, but when they went man, that was the points in the game I knew right where we wanted to be,” Hrabik said about the elder Schutte after that game. And about Erwin, he “makes things happen.”
Gee, does that sound familiar?
Their sons, Noah and Ty, earned their own league hardware Monday night when they led Laurel-Concord-Coleridge to a come-from-behind 66-56 victory over Ponca for the school’s first tournament championship since joining the Lewis & Clark Conference.
“That’s crazy,” said the elder Erwin, now the team’s coach. “It’s just great, not just for our kids, but for all of the kids and the school in general for us to get back to where we want to be as a program.”
Not only that, the similarities between the roles that the fathers once had and their sons now have on the team are striking.
Noah Schutte scored 23 points, thanks in part to 8 of 12 field-goal shooting, and he pulled down 12 rebounds to go with three assists, two steals and two blocks. Ty Erwin was 6 of 11 from the field en route to 17 points, and he added four rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block.
Also on Monday for the Bears, Cael Hartung was 7 of 8 from the field for 15 points, and Evan Haisch chipped in 11.
“This time of year, it’s a game of runs,” coach Erwin said. “We just felt like we had to get off to a good start, and we did off the press. But then Ponca hit some 3s and a few shots in the lane, but there were only one or two times where we missed a defensive assignment. It was just better plays by the offense.”
LCC responded with a 25-point fourth quarter, which the coach attributed to mental improvement by the Bears.
“We’re getting a little bit more calm and a little bit more confident. That’s the biggest next step that we’ve come to,” he said. “If Ponca would’ve put out that run in earlier years, the kids would have gotten nervous and tried to get it all back right away. But these kids, Noah and Ty and Cael, they know that you’ve got to take it one play at a time and chip away.”
Laurel-Concord enjoyed a run of success in the NENAC with five championships in an eight-year stretch from 1995 through 2002, but Monday’s win was the school’s first boys basketball conference tournament championship since a 67-56 victory against Crofton to claim the 2002 title. In fact, Monday was the first time that either Laurel-Concord or LCC had appeared in a conference final since 2008.
“There’s no reason, looking forward, that we shouldn’t able to maintain that success and be a force in the conference for years to come,” the elder Erwin said.
LCC’s title was also a testament to the relative balance atop all of the area conferences.
Entering the week, four teams were undefeated against teams in their respective conference — Atkinson West Holt in the Niobrara Valley, both Bancroft-Rosalie/Lyons-Decatur and North Bend Central in the East Husker, and Osmond in the Lewis & Clark — and Battle Creek had just one loss in Mid-State play. Out of those five teams, just one — top-ranked BRLD — escaped its conference tournament unscathed.
That drama lent itself to changes throughout both sets of ratings.
Class C catch-up
Outside of three teams, including the top two, the rest of the Class C list changed. Wayne moved up two spots to third after its Mid-State Conference championship, while Ponca fell a spot after losing in the Lewis & Clark final. Pierce, which hadn’t been ranked since the preseason list, moved up to fifth after reaching the Mid-State finals.
“This is kind of where we turned it around last year, too,” Pierce coach Mike Emory said after his team’s Mid-State semifinal win over top-seeded Battle Creek. “We’re not quite in the same boat we were in last year. We were 2-9 heading into the conference tournament and had to play in the play-in game, and that was when we started our run to get into the championship game.
“This year, we’re obviously a little more experienced coming in.”
The only other team that didn’t change spots was Hartington Cedar Catholic, which stayed sixth after its third-place Mid-State finish.
Two more fell after fourth-place finishes in their respective conference tournaments: Battle Creek, which had one loss all season in league play to begin the week, fell three spots to seventh; while Logan View/Scribner-Snyder dropped one spot to eighth.
Lutheran High Northeast dropped to contender status after its loss to Omaha Nation. Outside of the Eagles and Chiefs, top ratings contenders are Oakland-Craig, Twin River, Wisner-Pilger and Winnebago.
Class D dilemma
Yes, I know that Laurel-Concord-Coleridge lost to Osmond before the conference tournament in what could be their only head-to-head meeting.
But it’s hard to ignore the Tigers’ loss to Ponca in the Lewis & Clark semifinals, and then the Bears beating the same Indians in the finals. Plus, LCC sits ahead of Osmond in the all-important NSAA points standings, although just 0.2464 points separate the two.
And the margin separating the Bears from second-ranked Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family is even narrower — just 0.1364 points.
While top-ranked Humphrey St. Francis sits more than 1.5 points ahead of the trio of Class D1 squads, those margins are stated only to show just how close the rest of the top four teams are to each other.
All season, it’s felt as though the top four are on a level separate from the rest of Class D. Especially at this point, those four might as well be on a skyscraper.
The biggest beneficiary of West Holt dropping the Niobrara Valley final was Randolph, which moved up two spots to fifth following back-to-back wins. The Cardinals are undefeated against D2 play this season.
Allen also is promoted a spot to sixth, while O’Neill St. Mary’s joined the ratings for the first time this season thanks to its winning streak reaching double digits earlier this week. After a 5-4 start, the Cardinals have won 10 straight going into Thursday’s Niobrara Valley finals rematch at West Holt, which dropped three spots to eighth.