LINCOLN – Taya Beller always asks her head coach if she can shoot 3-pointers in games.
She got her chance Thursday in the opening round of the Class D-1 girls state basketball tournament at Lincoln Southwest High School.
The 6-foot-1 junior came up with a steal on an inbounds with 6.7 seconds left with fourth-seeded Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family trailing fifth-seeded North Central 67-64. Beller took a few dribbles up the court and fired a running 3-pointer as time expired. The ball bounced in and out before falling to the floor as the Bulldogs (21-5) finally succumbed.
“I thought it was in. I really did,” H/LHF head coach Kandee Hanzel said.
It ended a frantic fourth quarter that saw the Bulldogs rally from a nine-point deficit to have a look at tying the game.
H/LHF hung around, but couldn’t string together enough stops defensively to really make a push in the final eight minutes. Trailing 60-56 with about two minutes to play, the Bulldogs finally got the stop they needed to try and make it a one-possession game.
But North Central’s Jadyn Bussinger came up with a steal and traditional 3-point play to put the Knights (23-3) up 63-56.
That gave North Central the breathing room it needed to hold on for the victory.
It was a great run for H/LHF which only has three seniors on the team, and only one that sees regular minutes.
But it didn’t surprise Hanzel, who is in her first season as head coach, to see her young team make it to this point.
“I kind of saw it coming,” she said. “They just work hard. They work so well together and have been playing together since they were little. It’s a no-brainer to think they’re going to be here.”
Beller and sophomore’s Allie Schneider and Brittney Veik powered the Bulldogs all game.
Beller finished with 17 points and seven blocks despite battling foul trouble the entire second half. Schneider, who came in averaging just under nine points a game, led H/LHF with 21 points. Veik chipped in 13 points.
The difference in the game came down to free throws. North Central shot 46 free throws and made 32 of them while the Bulldogs were just 9 of 14.
“They were just a little bit more aggressive,” Hanzel said.
Beller immediately made her size advantage felt from the opening tip, scoring eight of the Bulldogs’ first 10 points while also blocking a couple shots as the teams traded leads the entire first quarter.
Miah Wiebelhaus’ basket with time winding down gave North Central a 13-12 lead. The sophomore finished with a game-high 24 points.
The Knights opened the second period on a 13-4 run, getting Beller into foul trouble in the process. Beller picked up her third personal foul with 3:49 left in the second quarter with North Central leading 22-16. The Knights quickly extended that lead to 26-16 and looked to be rolling offensively without Beller, who blocked five shots in the first half, to patrol the paint.
Allanah Beller’s 3-pointer sparked a 9-2 Bulldogs’ run to get H/LHF back in the game.
Danie Brandl scored the final bucket of the half as the Bulldogs trailed by just two, 32-30 at the break.
“We went at them,” Hanzel said.
Taya Beller quickly picked up her fourth personal foul less than a minute into the third quarter. This time, with her on the bench, the Knights were able to take advantage.
After H/LHF tied the game at 39-all, North Central ended the quarter on a 12-3 run to take a 51-42 lead into the fourth quarter.
That left the Bulldogs trying to claw back the entire fourth quarter. They were just a couple inches away from successfully doing so.
But Hanzel knows the experience of just being here will be critical next season when her team is down at state again. And she expects to be in Lincoln this time next year.
“Oh we’ll be back,” Hanzel said.