Norfolk Catholic boys hang on, O’Neill girls cruise to Mid-State Conference victories
O’Neill guard Dennis Hererra’s 3-point shot popped out of the basket as the buzzer sounded and Norfolk Catholic’s boys held on for a 65-62 Mid-State Conference victory at the Norfolk Catholic Activities Center on Tuesday.
Earlier, in the girls game, the visiting Eagles earned their eighth consecutive win with a convincing 56-33 triumph over the Knights.
In the boys contest, Norfolk Catholic’s Ethan Piper scored the Knights’ first two baskets on a putback and a layup for a 4-2 lead before the Eagles went on a 15-2 run. Mason Walsh’s 3-point shot from the baseline put O’Neill on top 17-6 with 2:46 to play in the period.
Later on, Francisco Perez’s bucket from 17 feet at the buzzer gave the visitors from Holt County a 21-12 advantage after one quarter.
“We didn’t rebound well, and we didn’t defend well,” Norfolk Catholic coach Kevin Manzer said. “You give up 21 points and you get killed on the boards, that first quarter (10-6); that’s inexcusable.”
Norfolk Catholic went on a 7-2 run to start the second quarter and later pulled within one at 25-24 after Dylan Kautz’s steal, layup and free throw.
But the Eagles outscored the Knights 8-3 in the next two minutes to lead 33-27 before Nate Brungardt’s offensive rebound and putback in the closing seconds pulled the Knights to within four at the break.
Whatever motivational speech Manzer gave the Knight players at halftime worked.
Norfolk Catholic opened the third quarter with a Brungardt-to-Piper alley-oop off the glass. Brungardt’s transition layup 30 seconds later tied it at 33.
Later on, Piper’s bucket and one on the block gave the Knights a 36-35 advantage. It was Norfolk Catholic’s first lead since 4-2, but it was short-lived.
O’Neill scored the next six points. Michael Poese’s drive to the basket for a layup had the Eagles on top 41-36.
Alex Lammers and Jamison Svehla hit back-to-back 3s to put the Knights on top for good 42-41. Later, Svehla’s transition layup with seven seconds on the clock gave the hosts a six-point lead at 50-44 heading into the final quarter.
“We always have a quarter,” O’Neill coach Seth Kallhoff said. “We let them build a little bit of a lead, but we’ve been in that situation before; we continue to fight.”
Norfolk Catholic led by as many as eight points in the fourth quarter and had a 59-54 advantage with 1:18 to play.
O’Neill had committed just four second-half fouls to that point, so Kallhoff instructed his players to foul to stop the clock and put the Knights on the free-throw line.
The Eagles committed three fouls in a span of six seconds and Norfolk Catholic’s Piper went to the line with 1:12 left, making one of two to put the Knights up 60-54.
Then Perez banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 38 seconds left to cut the lead in half.
The two sides traded free throws and Norfolk Catholic led 62-59 with 27 seconds to play. Ten seconds later, Piper blocked another Perez 3-point attempt, grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 15 seconds to play.
The University of Nebraska football recruit again made one of two free throws to make it a two-possession game at 63-59.
The Eagles quickly worked the ball into their front court when Hererra used the glass on a 3-pointer from the right wing to pull the Eagles to within one with 2.9 seconds left.
An O’Neill player fouled Svehla on the in-bounds pass. The junior walked to the other end of the court with 1.9 seconds on the clock and calmly sank both free throws to put the Knights up by three.
The Eagles were out of timeouts and threw a baseball pass past the half-court line. Hererra retrieved the ball, dribbled once and let fly a 26-foot jump shot from the top of the key.
As the buzzer sounded, the ball rattled around in the iron, then popped out, and the Knights held on for the 65-62 win.
Manzer was proud of his team’s come-from-behind effort.
“We had not responded well to being down this year. This was the first time that we had an opportunity to do that, so I’m really happy with how the boys responded.”
For Kallhoff, it was more of the same.
“This is our fifth or sixth game that we’ve lost by five or less,” he said. “So, we’re learning a lot from those. Now we just have to find a way to get over the hump.”
In the girls game, O’Neill led 10-6 after the first quarter, then turned up the heat in the second.
The Eagles scored the first eight points of the stanza. Alyssa Eichelberger’s steal and layup had the girls from the shamrock city up 18-6 with 4:18 left before halftime.
Norfolk Catholic coach Tim Kassmeier said O’Neill outworked his team in the first half.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well early and it kind of carried over to our defensive end,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to be a little more mentally tough.”
O’Neill kept Norfolk Catholic off-balance by applying full-court pressure and switching back-and-forth between man-to-man and 1-3-1 zone defenses.
“We’ve got a smart group of kids,” Eagles coach Brock Eichelberger said. “We’re not thinking anymore. Our kids are really getting comfortable with it.”
The Knights’ lone bright spot in the second quarter came on what amounted to a four-point play.
Mary Fennessy’s first of two free throws was good, but she missed her second. Norfolk Catholic’s Elly Piper tracked down the rebound and found Hanna Neesen on the right wing, who swished a 3-pointer. They were the Knights’ only second-quarter points.
The Eagles led 22-10 at halftime and 38-21 after three quarters.
O’Neill’s Claire Morrow hit nine field goals — including four 3-pointers — and scored a game-high 24 points.
Reserves on both sides played the majority of the fourth quarter.
O’Neill has won eight in a row and hasn’t lost since dropping a 50-41 decision to Stanton in the Mustangs’ holiday tournament in December.
“We’re playing fearless right now. I think we’re playing with a lot more confidence,” Eichelberger said. “Our defense has gotten a lot better.”
Both teams play games later this week but then face each other again in the quarterfinals of the Mid-State Conference tournament at Northeast Community College on Monday.
O’Neill 21 12 11 18 — 62
Norfolk Catholic 12 17 21 15 — 65
O’NEILL (5-10): Andrew Alder 1 0-0 2; Dennis Hererra 4 6-6 17; Mason Walsh 4 0-0 10; Kolby Dean 3 4-7 10; Francisco Perez 7 0-2 15; Peyton Matthews 2 0-1 4; Michael Poese 2 0-0 4; Totals 23 10-16 62.
NORFOLK CATHOLIC (7-8): Dylan Kautz 2 1-1 5; Jamison Svehla 3 4-6 11; Jack Marsden 3 0-0 9; Alex Lammers 1 0-1 3; Nate Brungardt 4 4-6 12; Jackson Clausen 1 0-0 2; Ethan Piper 10 3-7 23; Totals 24 12-21 65.
3-point field goals: O’Neill 6 (Hererra 3, Walsh 2, Perez), Norfolk Catholic 5 (Svehla, Marsden 3, Lammers); 3-point field goal percentage: O’Neill 6 for 12, 50 percent, Norfolk Catholic 5 for 15, 33.3 percent; 2-point field goal percentage: O’Neill 17 for 39, 43.6 percent, Norfolk Catholic 19 for 32, 59.4 percent; Rebounds: O’Neill 36, Norfolk Catholic 24; Turnovers: O’Neill 13, Norfolk Catholic 7; Fouls O’Neill 18, Norfolk Catholic 13.
O’Neill 10 12 16 18 — 56
Norfolk Catholic 6 4 11 12 — 33
O’NEILL (12-4): Alyssa Eichelberger 3 0-0 8; Meg Schluns 2 2-6 6; Claire Morrow 9 2-2 24; Blair Gutshall 2 0-0 4; Lauren Young 5 0-1 10; Brianna Bauer 2 0-2 4; Totals 23 4-11 56.
NORFOLK CATHOLIC (6-9): Carly Marshall 0 0-1 0; Anna Neuhalfen 1 2-2 4; Hanna Neesen 1 0-0 3; Anna Kassmeier 1 0-0 2; Mary Fennessy 4 3-7 11; Emily Faltys 1 0-0 3; Taylor Kautz 0 1-2 1; Hayden Wolf 1 3-4 5; Jozy Piper 2 0-1 4; Totals 11 9-17 33
3-point field goals: O’Neill 6 (Eichelberger 2, Morrow 4), Norfolk Catholic 2 (Neesen, Faltys); 3-point field goal percentage: O’Neill 6 for 15, 40 percent, Norfolk Catholic 2 for 9, 22.2 percent; 2-point field goal percentage: O’Neill 17 for 35, 48.6 percent, Norfolk Catholic 9 for 26, 34.6 percent; Rebounds: O’Neill 34, Norfolk Catholic 27; Turnovers: O’Neill 15, Norfolk Catholic 23; Fouls: O’Neill 16, Norfolk Catholic 10.