LINCOLN — The following are notes and quotes from the final two days of the state girls basketball tournament.
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Battle of defending state champs
The Class C1 state championship game between North Bend Central and Hastings St. Cecilia pitted two defending state champions against one another.
North Bend defeated Lincoln Christian for the 2020 Class C1 crown while St. Cecilia downed Ponca in last year's Class C2 final. Fast forward a year and North Bend defeated St. Cecilia 51-49 for the 2021 Class C1 title.
Before Saturday, the last time two defending state champs squared off in a final, a pair of Northeast Nebraska schools were involved.
Wynot defeated Hay Springs for the 2011 Class D2 crown while Howells downed Pender in Class D1 that same year. Then in 2012, Wynot won an overtime thriller over the Bobcats for all the marbles in Class D2, 50-47.
Leading when it counts
In Saturday's Class C1 state championship game between North Bend Central and Hastings St. Cecilia, North Bend's Hannah Williams hit a 3-point shot from the top of the key with 1:40 to play in the first half to give her team its first lead of the game at 23-21.
St. Cecilia tied it 40 seconds later when Bailey Kissinger drove to the basket past a pair of Tiger defenders for a layup and two of her game-high 33 points.
North Bend did not enjoy another lead until, with 6.4 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Sydney Emanuel broke a 49-49 tie by sinking two free throws.
Kissinger then dribbled the length of the court and tried for another layup at the buzzer, but this time the shot wouldn't fall and North Bend Central hung on for the 51-49 victory.
The Tigers led the game for a grand total of just 46 seconds, including when it counted the most.
Coming through in the clutch, again
On Saturday, North Bend Central won its second consecutive Class C1 state championship, and for a second straight year, the Tiger faithful can thank junior guard Sydney Emanuel for coming through in the clutch.
During last season's district final at Wisner, Emanuel, then a sophomore, and the Tigers trailed Norfolk Catholic 45-42 in the final seconds of the fourth quarter when Emanuel launched a 3-point shot at the buzzer and swish.
The Tigers went on to defeat the Knights 55-47 in overtime, then won three state tournament games to earn the C1 state title.
Then Saturday, Emanuel was the hero again, sinking two free throws to break a tie with 6.4 seconds to play and providing the winning margin for the Tigers' 51-49 triumph over Hastings St. Cecilia and a second straight state crown.
"The 3-pointer was probably a little more pressure since we were down by three at that time," Emanuel said. "But when I got up to the free throw line today, we were tied, so I just tried to put it in for my team."
Wild cards pay off
Some people like Nebraska's wild card system that determines district finalists and some don't. There's no doubt the good folks from Ponca are among its staunchest supporters.
For a second straight season, Ponca advanced to the Class C2 state championship game despite losing in the subdistrict round. And in both instances, the teams that defeated the Indians failed to qualify for state.
Last year, Guardian Angels Central Catholic downed Ponca 47-37 in the subdistrict final, but the Indians were able to qualify for a district final via the wild card route and defeated Nebraska City Lourdes to advance to state.
Meanwhile, Clarkson/Leigh upset Guardian Angels in another district final and the Bluejays stayed home.
In Lincoln, Ponca took down Grand Island Central Catholic and Oakland-Craig before falling to Hastings St. Cecilia in the state title game.
This year's scenario was similar, but this time North Central — the Rock County and Keya Paha cooperative — knocked off Ponca in the subdistrict semifinals 40-35.
North Central went on to the final where it fell to Crofton, but both the Indians and Knights made district finals as wild cards.
In that round, Ponca downed Cross County but BRLD eliminated North Central.
Ponca advanced to state and again won its first two games, against Guardian Angels and BRLD, before falling to Crofton in the final.
Longer state tourney benefits St. Francis
The Nebraska School Activities Association has, for decades, staged both the girls and boys state basketball tournaments in three-day blocks with quarterfinals on Thursday, semifinals on Friday and finals on Saturday.
But COVID-19 forced the NSAA to change the format this year, stretching out the tournament to five days for Class A and Class B and four days for the smaller schools.
The coach of Class D2 state champion Humphrey St. Francis said he felt the change in format benefited his Flyers.
St. Francis won an emotional, hard-fought semifinal over Mullen 65-59 on Thursday, then had Friday off before winning the state championship with a 57-48 victory over Falls City Sacred Heart on Saturday.
"I'm not sure how we were going to respond if we had to come back during that Mullen deal," St. Francis coach Bryan Reichmuth said. "I mean, we were mentally beat.
"We played so hard in the Sterling game (Wednesday's quarterfinal); we came out of there with quite a few bumps and bruises, and we needed a day to recuperate, honestly.
"We sent our girls back to school, back to normality, and it was really good, but the format this year worked to our advantage, for sure."
Weidner makes good on promise
For Humphrey St. Francis star Allison Weidner, her first three trips to the state tournament ended in disappointment.
The Flyers finished as state runners-up in both her freshman and junior years and suffered a first-round loss during her sophomore campaign.
Following last year's final, a 59-51 loss to Wynot, Weidner vowed that she'd lead St. Francis to a title in her senior year.
"I was going through the line with the silver medals and I grabbed both of the Baumgarts (twins Hannah and Emma) in my arms and I promised them this year would be our year," Weidner said.
"And they were crying, and I was crying and I promised them this would be our year and now we're undefeated, 25-0, state champs. It feels good."
Flynn still a factor
Kelly Flynn, the former South Sioux City girls coach is still around and being a thorn in the sides of Norfolk High and many Class A programs as he has taken his coaching talents to Fremont.
Flynn's credentials from South Sioux City are widely known.
As the Cardinals' coach, Flynn won Class B titles for more than a decade from 1995 to 2008 — 10 in all.
He retired for a couple of years, remaining at South Sioux City as an administrator before catching the coaching bug again.
Flynn moved on to Fremont, where the Tigers made history in just his third year at the school.
Flynn and company moved on to the Class A state girls finals for the first time since ... ever. The Tigers came up four points short of becoming the first school from outside Lincoln or metro Omaha since 1982 to win a Class A title.
Fremont gave undefeated Lincoln Pius X and star center Alexis Markowski all it could handle before falling 56-52.
Look for Fremont to be a factor again next year. The Tigers lose just one senior to graduation.