One way or another, Neligh-Oakdale's incredible season was going to come to an end Saturday afternoon at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln. It may not have finished quite like they expected, but they certainly brought home some hardware to put on the wall.
Neligh-Oakdale fell to Ponca 52-45 in the Class C2 State Championship Game to take runner up for the third time in school history.
The Warriors struggled out of the gate from the floor. They shot just 22.2 percent in the first quarter compared to 55.6 percent from the Indians to trail 14-7 after one. They battled back in the second to head into halftime trailing just 21-19. In the third quarter, it looked much like the first as the Warriors once again hit just 2-of-9 shots. In the final frame, Neligh-Oakdale hit four threes to close the gap, but Ponca's hit 14 of their 19 free throw attempts to pull away and seal the game.
Ponca was hot from the floor, particularly from beyond the arc, for most of the game. Coach Frank Gade said that was about what his team expected.
"We knew exactly what they were going to do. They just out-executed us today," he said. "They get the ball in the middle and kick and it is really tough to defend. These guys noticed that. We've seen darn near every play in the book against that zone, we knew exactly what they were going to do. We just didn't cover it as well as we did yesterday."
Grant White and Tyson Belitz each dropped in 14 points for the Warriors. Belitz also dished out five assists and pulled in nine rebounds. Alex Kerkman added six points, Chris Bentley had four, Clayton Anderson had three and Austin Rice and Nate Buck each finished with two.
For White, Belitz, Kerkman, Bentley, Anderson and Damon Arehart, the game is their last on the court for the Warriors. However, they hope the foundation they built in their four years give the team a platform to build on.
"Freshman year, we had good seniors to help us. We grew up big that first year. After that, coach put a lot of responsibility on our shoulders and the younger kids all looked up to us," said Belitz.