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

By Stephen McKay
Sports Writer 

2015 Nebraska Class B State Tournament: Bearcats declawed

Heeren's shot in waning seconds propels Sidney


Stephen McKay

The Sidney High School basketball team celebrates after the buzzer sounded in the Red Raiders' 65-63 victory over Scottsbluff in the quarterfinals of the state tournament on Thursday.

LINCOLN, Neb. – After picking up three fouls in the first quarter and four by halftime, Sidney High School's Jake Heeren could have been in for a very short morning.

Instead, Heeren came back on the floor three minutes into the third quarter and eventually sank the game-winning basket with 5.7 seconds remaining to propel the Red Raiders to a 65-63 win over archival Scottsbluff in the opening round of the 2015 NSAA Boys' Basketball Championship at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Thursday morning.

The Raiders (21-4) advance to the semifinals, where they will meet the Beatrice Orange (22-1), who eliminated Plattsmouth 56-36 in an earlier quarterfinal. Tip-off time is scheduled for 1 p.m. MDT Friday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

"The team chemistry on this team is unbelievable and during a timeout they said they were going to find a way to win and they did," said Raiders head coach Erik Kohl with his voice nearly gone. "I told the other coaches I was going to have film on all the other teams we might face, but I didn't want to look at any of it until we beat Scottsbluff.

"They're always so hard to beat, I just wanted to get past this one before I could think about anything else. Now we'll have a quick lunch and it's back to the hotel for a major film session," Kohl added.

The No. 3-seeded Raiders arrived quietly at the arena several hours before game time, looking relaxed and serious as they stopped in to have their pictures taken by the NSAA staff. They then took to the stands to watch the opening half of the first game on the bill between No. 2 Beatrice and No. 7 Plattsmouth.

It was Beatrice who made the Raiders entrance into the field of eight official when it won their district tournament last week. After being eliminated from the District B-6 Tournament by Alliance just 10 days ago, Sidney needed some help to qualify for state with either a win by Beatrice or Gretna. Many of the Raiders coaches and players listened to Beatrice win its district title on the radio that clinched a wild-card berth for the Raiders.

For much of the season, Sidney was among the top teams on the NSAA points list, which was a goal the Raiders set for themselves at the beginning of the season. They finished the season No. 3 on the list, which earned them a ticket to Lincoln.

This go around is the 39th time in Sidney High's history that it has sent a boys' basketball team to the state tournament – one more than Scottsbluff has managed. Sidney has twice won a state championship with titles in 1945 and 1981. The '81 team will be honored at halftime of the 7 p.m. Class A game on Friday.

For the Raiders and Bearcats, this was the fourth time they had met this season.

In the Western Conference Tournament, Scottsbluff held firm in its hometown with a 67-54 win in Cougar Palace at WNCC. The Raiders exacted revenge at the Cabela's Athletic Facility on Jan. 23 by the count of 65-58 in a game in which they never trailed. The Bearcats took the rubber game at Scottsbluff High School two weeks later, 70-56.

Only once before had the Raiders and Bearcats met in the state tournament, but on that occasion, neither team had a chance then to wear the championship ring. Sidney beat the Bearcats 52-42 in the third-place game back in 2009.

On Thursday morning, the Raiders and Bearcats opened their state tournament battle by trading blows, with the Bearcats eventually taking a three-point lead by halftime after an even second quarter.

Scottsbluff's Dillon Hernandez hit a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to give the Bearcats a 13-10 lead after one quarter. At one point in the second period, Scottsbluff had a seven-point lead at 23-16 when Landon Walker slammed one through the iron.

The sparring match continued into the third quarter until Lane Harvey's shot at the buzzer gave Sidney a three-point edge at 48-45. Earlier in the frame, a Heeren trey knotted the game at 33.

With just more than six minutes left to play, the Raiders opened up their own seven-point advantage at 55-48 after Heeren fed Tyler Wintholz with a quick strike for an easy layup.

But the 'Cats fought back and took a 63-60 lead on a Trent Harris 3-pointer with a little more than a minute to go. But back came Cutter O'Connell, who rattled the twine from way downtown to tie the game at 63-63 with 54 seconds left.

"Wow, I think he must have ice water in his veins," Kohl said. "He shot that one from NBA range. And he really wanted to ball. He wanted to take that shot."

About 49 seconds after O'Connell's bomb, Heeren did his thing.

He took an inbounds pass from under the Sidney hoop, made a move, and through the hoop it went as he was fouled.

"After Coach sent me in about three minutes into the third quarter, I was a little nervous," Heeren said. "If I'd picked up another foul it would have been a long quarter and a half on the bench. So I played it straight up and played good defense."

Though Heeren missed significant time due to foul trouble, he was backed up strongly by Jared Ross and Hayden Graham. Ross – who started much of the season – has struggled with health issues recently, but was strong in his return with 12 points.

Stephen McKay

Jake Heeren hits the game-winning shot for Sidney in the final seconds of the game.

Sidney was led in scoring by Harvey and Wintholz, who contributed 13 points each, while Heeren matched Ross' 12-point effort. O'Connell was the fifth member of the Raiders who reached double figures with 11.


Sidney 65, Scottsbluff 63

Scottsbluff 13 16 16 18 – 63

Sidney 10 16 22 17 – 65

SCOTTSBLUFF (63) – Trent Harris 25, Landon Walker 18, Dillon Hernandez 8, Austin Clarkson 7, Dru Kuxhausen 3, Jackson Hinze 2, Blake Wilberger 0, Evan Hughes DNP, Traceton Halley DNP, Matt Richardson DNP, Ashley Jones DNP, Matthew Mickey DNP, Jonah Wright DNP, Matthew Holloway DNP.

SIDNEY (65) – Lane Harvey 13, Tyler Wintholz 13, Jake Heeren 12, Jared Ross 12, Cutter O’Connell 11, Brady Radcliffe 4, Ryan Birner 0, Hayden Graham 0, Alex Linneman DNP, Jake Burke DNP, Mitch Porter DNP.


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