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

Year ends with loss in state title game


Stephen McKay

Sidney High junior Cutter O'Connell consoles his mom, Jody, following Saturday afternoon's state championship loss to Elkhorn South at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln.

LINCOLN, Neb. – Through the inevitable pain that follows the loss of a championship game, a broader picture of what was accomplished slowly emerges – especially when measured against what was expected.

Despite falling 60-51 to Elkhorn South (21-5) in the finals of the 2015 NSAA Class B Boys' Basketball Championships Saturday afternoon at Pinnacle Bank Arena, third-seeded Sidney (22-5) had its remarkable season come to an end at a time and place no one seriously contemplated three or four months ago.

"It's pretty special, so I hope these guys are proud. They should be proud," said Red Raiders head coach Erik Kohl. "The community support we got all season was just tremendous."

Despite surviving enumerable challenges, on and off the court, the Raiders reached the state finals for the first time since 1981. They lasted until the final day of the season on hard work, team unity and a belief that they could play with any Class B team in the state.

"I'm proud of everyone for hanging in there and fighting through adversity," said one of the two Raider seniors Jared Ross, who was also celebrating his birthday. "I don't know that I thought of us getting this far, but we kept pushing through and being mentally tough and that says a lot about the guys on this team."

Sidney started the 2014-15 campaign with a record of 5-2 that included a sound defeat by Scottsbluff at the Western Conference Tournament. In its final game before the Christmas break, Fort Morgan left the Raiders with coal in their stockings after handing them their second defeat of the young season.

Following the holidays, Sidney gradually emerged a more confident team. Big Red rattled off 12 straight wins, including a 65-58 wire-to-wire victory over Scottsbluff at Cabela's Athletic Facility on Jan 23.

But it wasn't a smooth ride as the Bearcats got its revenge too. The 'Cats hosted Sidney on Feb. 7 where they put a stop to the Raiders' winning streak in a convincing 70-56 final. Sidney recovered sufficiently well enough to finish out the regular season without a mark against it, until adversity came calling again at the District B-6 tournament.

While most expected a Sidney/Scottsbluff final a fait accompli, top-seeded Sidney bowed out to fourth-seeded Alliance in the semifinals in front of its home crowd. The setback was the only time this season the Raiders had lost on their own floor.

If that wasn't enough, Cody Frerichs – a starter in the back court opening the season – was suspended for several games in January for an off-the-court issue. Following their exit at districts, Frerichs was no longer on the team as the result of another incident.

With their roster down to 11 and an automatic bid to state out the window, the Raiders had their fate left in the hands of Beatrice and Gretna. When the Orangemen of Beatrice clinched their district title, the Raiders secured a wild-card berth.

The Raiders rallied around each other all season and Brady Radcliffe took over the starter's role without the team missing a beat. Though not generally called on to score, Radcliffe proved to be a steady shooter when needed and led the team in free-throw percentage.

Late in the season, Ross faced health issues that included a collapsed lung. With his future unsure, Sidney could have been facing big trouble. Junior Jake Heeren stepped in the fill the bill nicely, and Ross fought his way back and played off the bench.

"We had to keep asking him, 'are you alright, are you alright,'" said Kohl after practice last week. "He keeps on saying, 'I'm fine, I'm fine,' because he wants to play so badly. But we have to watch him and make sure he's OK. We have to make sure he isn't just saying he's fine."

Hayden Graham picked up significant minutes in the opening two games at the state tournament in relief of Ross and Heeren. Against Scottsbluff last week, Heeren got into early foul trouble before returning in the second half to hit the winning shot.

In Lincoln many people were overheard asking, "Where is Sidney?" That Sidney High is so small compared to the majority of Class B schools may be one reason the Raiders wore the cloak of an underdog from day one. SHS is ranked 29th among 32 Class B schools statewide with an enrollment of 255.

After the Raiders knocked off the Bearcats and Orangemen in the opening rounds at state, the two wild cards finally met on the Nebraska Cornhuskers home court for the championship.

The Raiders and Storm battled each other through an even three minutes before senior Lane Harvey pulled up and shook the strings from downtown to break a 6-6 tie. Fifteen seconds later, the fourth-year point guard added two more for a five-point Raiders lead.

Tyler Wintholz and Cutter OConnell answered two Storm buckets with one each of their own to preserve the Raiders five-point margin after eight minutes, 15-10. But the Raiders struggled to take care of the ball in the opening minutes of the second quarter and South made four early steals that led to baskets. The Storm took the lead (16-15) on a 6-0 run to start the second.

The Raiders managed to return to a three-point lead after Ross converted a Ryan Birner pass to make it 21-18. But a 7-0 spurt by Elkhorn South that started with a pair of baskets by Johnny Trueblood. The Raiders spent the rest of the half playing catch up and trailed 30-27 at the intermission.

"In the second quarter, I think we just got into a bit of a drought and missed some open shots and missed some free throws," Kohl said. "We got some great looks though. It wasn't for a lack of work or intensity. We played 32 minutes of our best basketball and they just made more shots than we did."

Throughout the game the Raiders' struggles from beyond the arc proved a factor. Harvey's first-period trey was the first and last one Sidney hit all game. The team finished 1 for 22. At the foul line, the Raiders only managed to make 4 of 9. By contrast, Elkhorn South visited the line 16 more times than Sidney and finished 17 for 25. Elkhorn, too, struggled from beyond the arc as it hit on just 3 of 16 attempts.

"We got here and we're proud of that," said Wintholz, who again led the Raiders in scoring with 18 points. "We just didn't execute well enough and unfortunately that happens. It's disappointing, but right now I'm just glad to be here."

Sidney had its best stretch in the third quarter when buckets by Birner and Heeren gave the Raiders their largest lead of the game at 37-30. The Storm, however, responded with an 8-0 run over a two-minute span to retake the lead at 38-37. The Raiders one-point deficit remained after three quarters, 40-39.

The final period was similar in some ways to the second, as South outscored Sidney 20-12. The Raiders final lead of the game came with 6:15 remaining after an O'Connell layup made it 43-42. The Storm responded with an 8-2 run and never trailed again.

"We're disappointed of course," Harvey said. "But I'm really proud of the whole team and with me an Jared for sticking it out as seniors. And the juniors were awesome and without them we wouldn't have made it here."

Besides the 18 points by Wintholz, Harvey added 13, O'Connell eight, Ross six, Heeren four and Birner two. O'Connell led the team in assists with three while Radcliffe and Harvey added two apiece. Heeren's 10 boards topped the Raiders with Ross grabbing nine and Wintholz six.

Trueblood led Elhorn South with 17 points and teammate Trey Kennebeck added 12.


Class B State Championship

Elkhorn South 60, Sidney 51

Elkhorn South  

Total 3.Ptr. Rebounds

## Player FG FG FT Off Def Tot PF  A TO Blk Stl Min Pts

21 Kardell, Michael c 1-3 0-0 1-2 2 6 8 0 0 0 0 0 15 3

20 Patras, Jace g  1-3 0-2 2-2 2 3 5 2 0 0 0 1 23 4

24 Carlos, Chad g  0-1 0-0 0-0 1 0 1 2 0 0 0 0 7 0

30 Trueblood, Johnny g  5-17 0-2 7-8 2 4 6 2 4 2 1 1 29 17

33 Costello, Justin g 3-10 0-5 0-0 0 5 5 5 0 3 1 2 20 6

12 Muraskin, Jacob 2-6 0-1 3-6 0 1 1 1 2 1 0 3 26 7

13 Streeks, Garrett 1-1 1-1 0-0 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 8 3

23 Anderson, Zane 3-6 2-5 0-0 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 15 8

42 Kennebeck, Trey 4-7 0-0 4-7 2 3 5 1 0 0 1 1 17 12

TEAM 0 3 3

Totals.............. 20-54 3-16 17-25 9 27 36 15 8 6 3 8 160 60

  37.0% 18.8% 68.0%


Total 3.Ptr. Rebounds

## Player FG FG FT Off Def Tot PF  A TO Blk Stl Min Pts

4 Heeren, Jake f  2-9 0-4 0-0 1 9 10 5 1 2 1 1 22 4

22 O’Connell, Cutter f  4-12 0-7 0-0 1 3 4 4 3 1 0 0 29 8

24 Wintholz, Tyler f  9-11 0-0 0-5 2 4 6 4 1 1 1 0 25 18

10 Radcliffe, Brady g  0-4 0-4 0-0 0 2 2 3 2 1 0 2 24 0

11 Harvey, Lane g  4-13 1-6 4-4 0 3 3 4 2 7 0 1 29 13

12 Birner, Ryan 1-1 0-0 0-0 2 2 4 1 1 1 0 0 15 2

15 Ross, Jared 3-8 0-1 0-0 5 4 9 0 1 0 2 0 16 6

Stephen McKay

The Red Raiders' Brady Radcliffe looks for a teammate to pass to in front of a large crowd at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday.

TEAM 1 2 3

Totals.............. 23-58 1-22 4-9 12 29 41 21 11 13 4 4 160 51

  39.7% 4.5% 44.4%

1st 2nd 3rd 4th Total

Elkhorn South 10 20 10 20 60

Sidney 15 12 12 12 51

Largest Lead – Elkhorn South by 10 (4th, 0:44), Sidney by 7 (3rd, 3:42).

Elkhorn South led for 16:24, Sidney led for 13:22, Gamne was tied for 2:14.


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