North Platte girls’ 24-game winning streak snapped with quarterfinal playoff loss

North Platte’s girls were on their way, back to the Final Four for the third time in four seasons. Ninety seconds into the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s Class 2 quarterfinal at the Independence Events Center, the Lady Panthers led second-ranked Skyline (Urbana) 48-40. Their all-district forward, junior Chelsi Sams, had just sank four straight free throws to cap a 10-3 outburst that started with 2:47 to go in the third period, when North Platte sophomore Emmie Lee nailed a 3-pointer—and a free throw as she was hacked when she launched her picture-perfect rainbow from beyond the arc. Free throw shooting had been the difference in the game. Sams’ four in a row made North Platte, at that point, 18 of 20 from the line. And free throw shooting would prove decisive in determining the final outcome, a 59-54 come-from-behind victory for Skyline. The Lady Panthers, who saw their 24-game win streak snapped and bowed out of the state playoffs at 27-2, missed six of their last eight free throws. Meanwhile, Skyline’s Lady Tigers chipped away at the deficit, aggressively attacking the basket, drawing fouls and making their free throws, 11 of 14 in the final 5 minutes, 47 seconds. “In that fourth quarter, we had long stretches where we just didn’t make any shots. Then we had a couple of turnovers and a few missed free throws,” North Platte coach Karl Matt said. “Skyline started driving the lane, getting to the line and making their free throws. “It came down to who could make plays in the last six minutes of the game.” Madisen Brethower, a 5-foot-8 junior, drove the lane repeatedly to spark Skyline’s rally. While the Lady Panthers turned cold from the line, missing five of six free throws, and committed three turnovers, Brethower banked home two lay-ups, drew two fouls and hit four freebies to put Skyline on top 53-51 at the 1:21 mark. North Platte evened things at 53-all on a Sams basket in the low post. Then, on a possession that saw the Lady Tigers put up three shots, Brethower laid the ball in off a teammate’s misfire and sank yet another free throw to complete a three-point play, giving Skyline the lead for good, 56-53, with 51 seconds to go. “No. 4 (Brethower) just took over the game,” Matt stated. Brethower netted 19 of her game-high 21 points in the second half. No other Lady Tiger reached double-digits as Skyline spread its scoring among nine different players. North Platte had one last shot to tie the score and possibly force overtime. Matt used his last timeout to freeze Lady Tiger freshman McKinsey Mountain after she made the front end of a double-bonus opportunity with 14.5 seconds remaining. She then missed the second free throw. The Lady Panthers —down 57-54 — got the ball to junior guard Courtney Kipping in the corner, but her 3-pointer fell short. With 1.7 seconds showing, Brethower clinched the Skyline victory with two more free throws, completing her perfect 12 of 12 afternoon from the line. “There are games along the way in the course of a season that you know you should win. Coming into this one, I didn’t know,” said Skyline coach Kevin Cheek, whose squad carries a 25-5 record into Thursday’s state semifinal against New Haven. “I told our kids today, ‘Hey, it’s 50-50. I don’t know if we can win. I don’t know if we’ll lose. It’s just not going to be an easy one.’