One-by-one, Sterling’s Riley Galyon, Kirk Engelland and Trey Bagby joined head coach Derek Schneider on the sidelines after fouling out.
Sterling’s reign as Class 2A state basketball champion was ended by a feisty Little River team that outfought the Black Bears 59-55 in Friday’s substate semifinals. The Redskins will play Inman in Saturday’s championship game at Sterling High School.
The Redskins trailed 46-41, but seized the momentum with a stunning 12-2 run for a 53-48 lead. Chet Cordell ignited the rally with a 3-point play after Zach Konen’s 3-pointer. Tevin Renken followed with a 3-pointer and Ethan Wright scored on an inside basket.
Top-seeded Little River (18-4) made 4 of 10 free throws in the final 65 seconds, but that was good enough. Jake Jaderston converted a 3-pointer and Bagby scored on a rebound basket to slice the lead to 57-55 before Renken made two insurance free throws for the final margin.
“Zach Konen’s 3-pointer propelled us,” said Little River coach Chad Lafferty. “We haven’t been in a lot of tight games like this, but the guys kept battling and found a way to get the victory. When we were down, we found a way to battle back.”
Sterling (10-12) regained control after trailing 32-26 at halftime. The Black Bears outscored the Redskins 16-7 for a 42-39 lead after three periods. Kirk Engelland and Austin Maxwell each scored two baskets in the period.
But the Redskins trio of Renken, Dalton Koehn and Chet Cordell kept attacking the basket for scores and trips to the free throw line. The Redskins made 16 of 29 free throws, but held a 10-point edge at the stripe. Renken scored 16 points, Cordell had 15 and Koehn chipped in 10 points.
The Redskins’ game plan was exactly what Schneider had seen on film.
“Little River stuck with their game plan and kept attacking us defensively,” Schneider said. “We wanted to keep them from driving the ball to the basket and getting to the free throw line, but that’s what they do. We would’ve liked them to beat us with the outside shot, but we got away from our game plan a few times defensively.”
The Redskins’ physical style held Jaderston to 13 points off 5 of 17 shooting. Maxwell hustled for 11 points, but made 5 of 13 field goals. Kirk Engelland scored 11 points.
“We played defensively as well as possibly could against Maxwell and Jaderston,” Lafferty said. “We couldn’t have done any better. We wanted to front Maxwell and give help. We wanted to slow down Jaderston’s penetration and slow him down. We accomplished what we wanted.”
The Redskins closed the first half on a 10-1 run and finished the game on a 18-9 run. The back-and-forth affair featured 10 ties and nine lead changes. Renken’s 3-pointer gave the Redskins the lead for good at 51-48.
Sterling committed 18 turnovers, another statistic that frustrated Schneider.
“I was proud of our team’s effort. We had too many empty possessions and they turned up their defensive pressure,” Schneider said. “A few times, we threw the ball away trying to inbound the ball. That’s tough to overcome. We played with great effort, but didn’t always make the smart play every time.”
Inman 33, Central Plains 23 – Josh Miller, the Burrton Invitational Most Valuable Player, scored 16 points and converted 6 of 6 free throws to spark the Teutons past Central Plains. Justin Friesen added eight points. Inman (17-5) plays a patient offensive style and scrappy defense.
Both teams were comfortable in a low-possession game that ended in a 15-15 tie at halftime. Inman outscored the Oilers 13-6 in the final period. Michael Lamatsch paced the Oilers (13-9) with eight points and Layne Bieberle added seven points.