Lady Knights edge North Bend Central in overtime 49-48 to win EHC title
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Lady Knights edge North Bend Central in overtime 49-48 to win EHC title

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Oakland-Craig Coach Joe Anderson said his players “don’t like to lose” and they proved it again on Saturday night.

After relinquishing a 12-point fourth-quarter lead, the Knights outscored North Bend Central 7-6 in overtime to earn its first East Husker Conference tournament championship since 2016 with a 49-48 win over the Tigers at the Midland University Wikert Event Center.

“I was really happy with their ability to re-gain their composure in overtime,” Anderson said. “These girls don’t like to lose and they found a way to get it done again in this game. It was a great team effort tonight.”

The second meeting between the two top-rated teams played out much like the first time they met this season (which resulted in a 40-39 Oakland-Craig victory in late January): tenacious defense, clutch baskets at critical moments and a furious finish.

After a first-quarter that saw five lead changes, the Knights’ pressure defense forced five second-quarter turnovers to help Oakland-Craig take a 17-12 halftime lead.

The Knights maintained a five-point lead after the third quarter and then capitalized on a Kennedy Benne jumper, a Chaney Nelson steal and layup, and a conventional three-point play by Mya Guzinski to open-up their largest lead of the game at 33-21 with 6:07 left in the contest.

“I thought we played really good defense for three-and-a-half quarters,” Anderson said. “We were able to keep them out of the paint, rebound well and use our defense to create offense. Then I thought we just lost our composure the last four minutes of the fourth quarter.”

Following a 2:32 fourth-quarter scoring drought, North Bend Central started its comeback. After being held scoreless the first half, Sydney Emanuel scored 10 fourth-quarter points to help the Tigers cut the Oakland-Craig lead to one (41-40) with under a minute to play.

Following a Benne free throw that gave the Knights a 42-40 lead, North Bend’s Megan Ortmeier grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a put-back to send the game to overtime.

“We are really good when we play with a sense of urgency,” North Bend Central Coach Aaron Sterup said. “I thought that was the key to our comeback. We’ve just got to learn to play with that sense of urgency from the get-go.”

In overtime, Benne, Syd Guzinski and Jeannina Blahak combined to score all seven points to help the Knights secure the 49-48 victory.

Benne, an all-state guard who averages 21 points per game, converted 12 of 18 free throws to finish with a game-high 24 points.

“Kennedy missed a lot of shots she usually makes in this game,” Anderson said, “but her effort on defense was outstanding. She was able to help us create offense with her defense. Then she hit some big buckets late in the game and when we needed her to hit her free throws she was there.”

The win improves Oakland-Craig, the top-rated team in Class C-2, to 21-0, while the loss drops North Bend Central, the top-rated team in Class C-1, to 19-2 (with both of those losses coming to the Knights).

OAKLAND-CRAIG 49, NORTH BEND CENTRAL 48

North Bend Central 9 3 9 21 6 —48

Oakland-Craig 11 6 9 16 7 —49

NORTH BEND CENTRAL: Sydney Emanuel 12, Megan Ortmeier 9, Kaitlyn Emanuel 8, Cierra Kluthe 7, Ally Pojar 5, Hannah Williams 3, Lauren Emanuel 2, Abby Post 2.

OAKLAND-CRAIG: Kennedy Benne 24, Chaney Nelson 10, Syd Guzinski 6, Mya Guzinski 4, Makenna Pearson 3, Jeannina Blahak 2.

OAKLAND-CRAIG 49, NORTH BEND CENTRAL 48

North Bend Central 9 3 9 21 6 —48

Oakland-Craig 11 6 9 16 7 —49

NORTH BEND CENTRAL: Sydney Emanuel 12, Megan Ortmeier 9, Kaitlyn Emanuel 8, Cierra Kluthe 7, Ally Pojar 5, Hannah Williams 3, Lauren Emanuel 2, Abby Post 2.

OAKLAND-CRAIG: Kennedy Benne 24, Chaney Nelson 10, Syd Guzinski 6, Mya Guzinski 4, Makenna Pearson 3, Jeannina Blahak 2.

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