The finality and suddenness of “win or go home” games wasn’t lost on any one with a dog, or in this case a Tiger or Crusader, in the fight last night in Nebraska City as fourth-ranked Falls City High and seventh-ranked Lincoln Christian battled each other to the bitter end for the Class C1-1 district title and more importantly, a birth in the state tournament.
The capacity crowd of 1,200, a majority of whom were boisterous Tiger faithful, definitely got their monies worth.
But for those in Orange and Black and the 14 players in home whites, the finality of season’s end was realized as Lincoln Christian edged Falls City 51-45.
It was the second-straight year the Tigers season ended at the hands of the Crusaders, who defeated Falls City 58-43 in the sub-district last February.
“This team was a pretty special group,” Falls City High head coach Don Hogue said. “It’s not exactly the color of the plaque we wanted to go home with, but we just have to find a way to get better. We go to the district final four of the last six years and only won one of them. We’ll find a way to get the job done.”
With the benefit of hindsight, the Crusaders first two field goal attempts of the game – a pair of made 3-pointers, the first from Logan Power and the second from Trevor Colson – proved to be more than just the difference on the scoreboard, but were also a sign of things to come. Specifically for Colson, who knocked down a 3-pointer in the opening minutes of each of the first, second and third quarters.
FCHS, however, struggled to find a rhythm offensively early on, but salvaged the final minute of the first quarter with a 6-1 spurt, highlighted by a sophomore-to-sophomore feed and finish from Jack Hartman to Jordy Stoller and senior Wade Witt sank a pair of free throws with one-tenth of a second on the clock to cut the LC lead to 17-11 after the game’s first eight minutes.
LC opened the second quarter with a 9-0 run and Colson’s third triple of the first half with three minutes left put his team up 31-15 and forced a timeout by the Tigers.
FCHS responded with a 9-2 tear, highlighted by a great defensive sequence that led to a buzzer-beating lay-up by Stoller.
Hartman’s steal from Colson created a loose ball and started the play. Junior Mitchell Harling corralled the ball and made one of his game-high eight assists on a great pass ahead to Stoller, who scored the lay-up before time expired. The buzzer-beater cut the lead to nine, 33-24, and regained a little momentum as the teams headed in to the lockers for halftime.
Hogue told his team in the locker room to stay active offensively and stressed ball movement, which he felt they lacked early in the game.
“We were dribbling way too much early on,” Hogue said. “We were trying to do things that we could get away with against some teams, but with a type of team like Christian, we just had to get some fluidness offensively to get things working,” Hogue said.
Defensively, Hogue was pleased with his team’s performance in the first half and credited the Crusaders for knocking down shots. Christian was lights out in the first half and finished 11-of-19 from the floor, 4-for-6 from the 3-point line and connected on 7-of-9 free throws the first half. FCHS stepped it up in the second half and held LC to six field goals.
“Defensively, I was pleased with our performance tonight. We battled back, but that’s what they’ve done all year.”
Colson, who finished 4-for-4 from the three-point line and 6-of-7 from the floor with 18 game-high points, connected on his fourth and final three 60 seconds into the third to put Christian ahead 36-26, but the quarter belonged to the Tigers.
Hartman got FCHS going after Colson’s three, as he scored all six of his points in the third frame. Wade Witt then drew charges on each of the next two Crusader possessions and Huettner capped off a 10-2 Tiger run with a jumper from 10-feet to cut the lead to 38-36.
Huettner, a senior and the Tigers leading scorer the last two seaons, had a quiet first half, but scored eight of his ten points in the second half, despite picking up his fourth foul with just under five minutes to play in the game.
LC’s Brandon Schipman scored the final points of the third quarter on a 3-point play to push the lead to 41-36.
FCHS junior Reese Hogue, who led the team with six rebounds, drew a charge with less than 5:30 left in the game that led to two points from Huettner at the other end and cut LC’s lead back to three.
Power answered though with two points inside and added a pair of free throws to keep FCHS at bay. He finished with 15 points and seven boards.
Harling connected on his only three of the contest with just over three minutes left in the game to bring FCHS back to within three, but that would be as close as the Tigers would get as the final seconds of the season ticked away.
Harling finished 2-of-11 from the field for six points.
The Tigers finished with only four losses this season, tied the school-record with 23 wins, matching the 2009-10 team, and were the first team in the state to start the season 13-0. The 13-0 start also topped the 1939 FCHS team led by Nebraska Hall of Famer John “Jug” Brown.
The senior class of Huettner, Witt, Mitchell Campbell and Brandt Vice were a part of 75 wins and Hogue commended them for their hard work the last four years and noted in particular their approach to any challenge in front of them.
“They’re a special group, very team-oriented,” Hogue said of his seniors. “They are unique in the way they bounced back from losses. They would just brush it off and move forward. That’s something I’ve never coached before.”
FCHS – Hartman, 6; Stoller, 8; Harling, 6; Huettner, 10; Hogue, 4; Wa. Witt, 11.
LC – Carlson, 2; Schipman, 11; Colson, 18; Power, 15; Chicoine, 5.