O-C slips to 4th at C2 state tourney

Kennedy Benne drives the ball against Ponca. The Oakland-Craig senior was named to the Class C2 all-tournament team.

A weekend that started full of promise on Thursday came to a bitter end Saturday for Oakalnd-Craig’s girls basketball team.

The top-seeded and top-ranked Knights left Lincoln with a fourth place finish following their 58-40 to Crofton in the Class C2 consolation game at Lincoln East High School Saturday afternoon.

Junior all-stater Lacey Sprakel scored 11 points and sophomore Ella Wragge added 10 to lead No. 2 Crofton in the third-place game.

The Warriors (25-4) were aided by a 20-point first quarter.

Senior Kennedy Benne led the top-seeded Knights with nine points and freshman Sydney Guzinski added eight.

Saturday’s loss ended O-C’s season at 26-3. The third place finisher a year ago, the Knights finished the 2019-20 season ranked fourth in Class C2 by the state’s largest daily paper. Benne was named to the Class C2 all-tournament team.

Oakland-Craig had designs on a state title heading into Friday’s semifinal matchup with Ponca at the Devaney Center.

With three state tournament appearances in the past four seasons, eighth-seeded Ponca also is quickly learning how to grind out a postseason win.

Going up against the top-ranked Oakland-Craig, which had dropped just one game all season, that winning formula meant Ponca finding its way to the free-throw line and playing strong defense.

The Indians shot 23-of-37 from the free-throw line and held Oakland-Craig to its second-worst scoring performance of the season in a 53-44 win to advance to the C2 title game.

A fast-paced first half seemed to benefit Oakland-Craig early on as Ponca struggled to deal with the Knight’s full-court pressure. Ponca turned the ball over 14 times in the first half and made just eight field goals, but its defense kept the game close.

Oakland-Craig took a slim 25-23 lead into halftime, but Ponca coach Bob Hayes said the break allowed his team to make adjustments on offense, which included a commitment to swinging the ball around and forcing the Knights to defend the whole court.

After taking a 35-32 lead heading into the fourth quarter, Ponca’s top scorers kept the momentum going offensively. Ashlyn Kingsbury scored eight fourth-quarter points, part of her team-high 20, while Kaci Day added five of her 16 points in the fourth quarter as well.

Oakland-Craig cut an eight-point deficit to four points as its full-court pressure forced a pair of turnovers, but Ponca stuck to its strategy and continued to make trips to the free-throw line.

Ponca made just two field goals but scored 18 points in the fourth quarter, while Oakland-Craig’s Kennedy Benne scored all 12 of the Knight’s fourth-quarter points, finishing with a team-high 20.

Oakland-Craig eliminated Ponca in the opening round of the state tournament last year, but the Indians ensured there would be no repeat, advancing to its first state title game since 1993.

Benne led Class O-C with 18 points in a 41-36 victory over Clarkson/Leigh in Tursday’s first round game, but it was a rebound in the third quarter that showed her true strength for the Knights.

After a couple of turnovers by Oakland-Craig and Clarkson/Leigh in the first-round game at Lincoln North Star, Benne grabbed a rebound, held on to the ball and told her teammates to calm down.

All was right with the world again for the Knights, who held off a stingy Clarkson/Leigh squad over the final 10 minutes of play.

“I think she felt the pace being ragged and us forcing things a little bit,” Oakland-Craig head coach Joe Anderson said. “She’s our leader. She’s an all-state player. All our freshmen look up to her and Mya (Guzinski), our other senior. When we need a play, she is just there to make it for us. I know she’ll be there in the end when we need her.”

Clarkson/Leigh was not the same team Oakland-Craig faced early in the season in a 55-31 victory. O-C needed freshman Sadie Nelson to hit a pair of three-pointers, the second one at the buzzer, to finish the first quarter with an 11-7 lead.

“I thought Sadie Nelson did a great job,” Anderson said. “Freshman coming off the bench early and kind of sparked us. It was definitely a real slow start and we had some opportunities that slipped through our fingers.”

After allowing two early first-quarter buckets to Clarkson/Leigh’s Kimberly Stodola, Oakland-Craig did not allow another basket until the third quarter. The Patriots scored all nine second-quarter points from the free-throw line.