The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Stephen McKay
Sports Writer 

Talking Sports: As competition heats up, reflecting on triumphs


We’re now one week into May, the biggest month on the spring sports calendar.

Saturday begins the local post season with the Peetz Bulldogs heading to Lakewood, Colo. for baseball regionals. There are six days left before the Class D-11 district track meet. One week from today, the Class B-6 track meet will be held and the start of state track in Colorado gets under way. In 11 days, district golf tees up in both Class B and D. There are 15 days to Nebraska state track. State golf in classes B and D are on tap for May 27, and May 25.

With all these big events coming up, it reminded me that I first started covering the sports in this area more than two years ago. It got me to thinking about some of the big events I have already been on the scene for. I don’t know if it’s possible to rank a kind of top-10 list, especially in some arbitrary order, but here are some of the most dramatic moments I can recall from the past two years.

The most heavily attended home game I have seen in these parts was Sidney’s battle with the Blair Bears in the opening round of the Class B-6 football playoffs in 2013. The fans not only filled the bleachers, but were strung out several deep for 30 or more yards on each side of the stands.

The Raiders won that contest and nearly pulled off the upset of the year the following week as their round-two game went down to the final seconds. Whenever I think of that contest, I think of Larry Brown’s photo of running back Michael Deaver holding up his arms after scoring the first home playoff touchdown in 20 years.

Now, through an odd set of circumstances, Head Coach Todd Ekart - who led the Raiders out of the football wilderness - is headed to rival Gering. Though Gering is likely to struggle for a time, I don’t think anyone around these parts will be surprised when Gering turns out to be a very tough opponent and perhaps even a champion.

Of course, this past winter season was a gold mine for drama and big games. Perhaps the most dramatic single game of the winter was the Peetz Bulldogs basketball team beating previously unbeaten Arickaree/Woodlin 70-63 to earn a place in the state playoffs.

It’s fair to say the ‘Dogs were a big underdog that day, but they came out with an intensity that lasted 24 minutes without let up. They took every punch the Indians could throw, but never went down.

While the Bulldogs were slaying their Goliath, the Sidney Red Raiders were doing the same. They had an extraordinary season which almost ended prematurely on the Cabela’s Athletic Facility floor after their district opener vs. Alliance. But off to Lincoln the Raiders went.

Aside from the great basketball that played out before my eyes over three days, my best memory is a comment I overheard in the press room. Moments before the Raiders were to meet Beatrice in the second round, one journalist said to another, “There won’t be much to this one. I don’t see Sidney hanging with these guys for long.”

The other thing I remember is one of the Sidney players saying to me after one game at state something about the other team being more talented. I knew the Raiders were well coached and very motivated, but maybe I too thought the talent level - or more accurately - the experience level would catch up to them.

After that week, I was convinced Sidney was more than talented enough to hang with the big boys. They were just a few breaks short of a state championship. Those that return won’t have to worry about whether or not they’re talented enough. They just have to wonder where their next point guard is going to come from.

One thing about the NSAA. They sure know how to put on a show. That was made clear, again, when I was at the state wrestling championships in February. Sidney and its four state qualifiers, Michael Muggli, Kaden Vowers, Colton Peckham and Derek Robb, battled their ways through their respective brackets under the bright lights of Century Link Center.

Robb made it through to the finals which were televised live on NET. When the lights began to swirl, the music was turned up and the athletes paraded out, you felt like you were at a major-league event.

Just before Robb took his place under the lights, Ben Rodriguez of Scottsbluff High School set the tone with his battle at 132 pounds. He fought his way from behind in the third period and won the match after three overtimes. When he was done, I snapped, what I considered, one of the best sports photos I’ve ever taken. An elated Rodriguez flexed his muscles and shouted with glee while not seeming to notice his blood-filled mouth.

Robb, just a freshman, has a poise beyond his years. He also had to battle from behind, but his reaction was much more subdued than that of Rodriguez. When the match was over, he reached down in an attempt to lift up Andrew Null. Null was so disappointed, it took him several moments before he finally rose on his own power. As usual, NSAA put on a great show.

Like the Sidney boys’ basketball team did in 2015, the girls did in 2014. They earned a place at the state tournament. While the Lady Raiders could not fight off the No. 1 Grand Island Northwest Vikings at state, the real show was the district final. They came back from a 12-point deficit in the final five-plus minutes to win the game after a 16-2 finishing run.

Seniors Katelin Cole and Sarah Mahr were the offensive heroes of that final spurt, but all the Raiders clamped down hard on defense. After it was all over and I was looking at the photos from the evening, I was as much taken by what the reactions I saw in the stands as on the floor. Plenty of tears, clapping and stunned looks in the crowd. With Cole and Mahr were three other seniors who finished their careers off in style incluidng Abbi Porter, Rachel Petik and Cody Rowley.


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