LINCOLN — The progression for a championship finally found the center target for Howells-Dodge on Saturday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
After finishing third in 2015 and losing to Emerson-Hubbard in the Class D-1 title game a season ago, the Jaguars got their elusive title by defeating Diller-Odell 39-30 in the Class C-2 final. With the win they become just the eighth school to win the class since 1996.
“In our locker room, we have a little dart board that says 3, 2, 1,” H-D coach Scott Polacek said. “The entire season, from our first spring meeting was to win this thing. We thought it might be Crofton would be the team we’d have to deal with so we tried to raise our game to deal with that.
“You take the (opponents) one at a time and it just happened to be Diller-Odell and we just did enough to get it done. But, hats off to them, they are a good program.”
The Griffins were the talk of most of the tournament, regardless of class this weekend. They shocked Crofton — five time defending champion in the class — on Thursday in the first round and followed that with a convincing win over Ravenna in the semifinals.
They played from behind almost the whole game in the finals.
H-D jumped to a 7-0 lead early in the game behind a 3-point shot from Kalli Brester to open the game and then points in the paint from Erin Prusa and Sam Brester.
“The start was big,” Sam Brester said. “It helped us settle into the atmosphere even better.”
After the Griffins came back from a 14-7 first quarter deficit to take the lead at 18-17, Howells-Dodge ended the first half with a flurry to take control.
Sam Brester started a 10-0 run to end the half with a free throw and a bucket and Macey Kulhanek ended it with a transition bucket and a 3-point basket that gave the Jaguars a 27-21 halftime lead that they never gave up.
“Dry spells are not fun,” Polacek said of the Griffins comeback early in the second quarter. “We had one last year in the championship game at it cost us the game. You just hope you can survive it and you can make enough plays to get through it.
“And, we did. Then, we made a nice run ourselves and that was big momentum at halftime I thought.”
The Jags went an exclusive 2-3 zone in the second half — they had used it a little bit in the first half — and Diller-Odell had no answers. They scored just one point in the third quarter, while going 0-for-11 from the field, as H-D took a 32-22 lead to the final frame.
“They were getting a little more penetration (in the first half) than we would have liked,” Polacek added. “We just decided we’d play a little more 2-3 zone and that switch was, to me, the difference in the game.
“They had trouble getting into their offense when we were in the zone.”
Kulhanek led the Jaguars with 12 points, including two 3-point shots, while Sam Brester had nine points and 11 rebounds for the champions, who won their state title as consolidated school.