CLARK GRELL, Journal Star
Megan Spicka wanted to help her injured teammate, not just during the game, but after the final horn, too.
Moments after No. 2 Bishop Neumann crafted together a sound and complete 53-41 victory against No. 1 Lincoln Christian in the Class C-1 state girls tournament semifinals Friday morning, Jessina Rada hopped on the back of Spicka for a piggy-back ride off the Pinnacle Bank Arena floor.
The Cavaliers lost their second-leading scorer, and a tenacious defender, nearly 24 hours earlier when Rada injured her left knee against Grand Island Central Catholic, ending the senior’s season. She was on crutches Friday.
“When we saw that she got hurt, we got together and we told each other that we were going to play for her,” said Spicka, a senior post player. “We were going to play for God, and we were also going to play for her, because she was critical to the team.”
Neumann’s victory puts it in Saturday’s 9 a.m. Class C-1 state final against No. 7 Columbus Scotus.
With Rada out, the Neumann girls knew they were going to need everyone to step up. On the other side of the court was top-ranked and defending champion Lincoln Christian.
An inspired group of Cavaliers responded.
They got big shots from several players and made their free throws. More importantly, Neumann’s defense had the screws tightened for most of the game.
With Spicka and Kelsie Cada down low, the Cavaliers (21-4) held Christian’s top two post players to a combined nine points, and the perimeter defense was just as strong. Neumann coach Jason Simons called the defensive effort a “complete package.”
“(Christian’s Chloe Dworak) definitely made a few shots there and caused us some problems and we adjusted just a bit,” Simons said. “But I could not be prouder of the defensive effort from our entire team. We played kind of packed in there and that takes all five. We’re a gang defense and that’s what we showed (Friday).”
Capped by a three-pointer from Emie Hollenbeck, Christian jumped to a 13-6 lead after the first quarter. But Neumann didn’t panic.
“We just really didn’t get down on ourselves about that,” Spicka said. “We knew they were going to hit shots and we just had to try not to think about that and just play our game. We just played through the adversity, just like we did yesterday.”
The Cavaliers regrouped, outscoring Christian (21-7) by 12 points in the second quarter, getting threes from Aspen Jansa, Alyssa Rezac and Lindsey Thiele.
Neumann kept it going in the third quarter. Back-to-back three-pointers from Thiele gave the Cavaliers a nine-point lead, and Jansa’s corner three later in the quarter pushed the cushion to double digits.
“I think honestly, we just settled down,” Simons said. “When you’ve got new girls playing new roles and new substitution patterns, everybody only thinks it affects one girl. Well, it affects the entire team.”
A day after scoring 28 first-round points, Jansa finished with 19. Thiele scored 10 and Spicka had nine. The Cavaliers also had a double-digit margin advantage in rebounds and won the battle for 50-50 balls. Simons said those were Nos. 1 and 2 in points of emphasis.
Foul trouble hampered Christian, which typically uses a six-player rotation. Emie and Olivia Hollenbeck picked up early fouls, and three starters fouled out, including Dworak, who picked up her fifth foul on a charge with 5 minutes, 2 seconds remaining.
“That’s difficult when they’re on the bench, when you want to finish with the team,” Christian coach Nick Orduna said.
Dworak finished with a game-high 21 points.
Neumann and Christian, members of the Centennial Conference, were playing each other for the eighth time in two seasons. Christian won last year's state semifinal meeting 84-53.
“We know them so well, a lot of times it comes down to players executing,” Simons said with some emotion. “I’m just going to be honest with you, it’s not about the coach, it’s all about those 14 players that executed a game plan to near perfection.”