Cody Thorn and Adam Burns
DEARBORN, Mo. — The first basket is sometimes the toughest, especially in a pressure-filled game.
North Platte missed its first few attempts, but once a layup from McKenzie Sams gave the Panthers the initial lead that set the tone.
The Panthers scored the first three baskets and rolled to a 62-34 win over Cass-Midway in the Class 2 District 15 championship game on Saturday, Feb. 23 at North Platte High School.
“You want the first basket and we had a couple of misses, but the steal and transition by McKenzie, it was a difficult layup, to get up first,” North Platte coach Ryan Davis said. “Then McKenzie Brockhoff had a tough layup to go up 4-0 and we settled down and got into a rhythm. I looked up it was 12-2 and we were feeling good and playing well on the offensive end.”
North Platte (15-12) opened on a 6-0 run and the lead grew to 12-2 on a pair of free throws by Brockhoff with 3 ½ minutes to play in the quarter. After the Vikings pulled with 12-6, North Platte closed on a 10-1 run, including back-to-back 3s by Grace Rice and Janell Manville.
Up 22-7 after the first 8 minutes, the buckets kept falling for North Platte. A steal and layup by Sams with 4 minutes, 24 seconds left made it 31-11. Another bucket by Brockhoff, who had 22, made it 36-13 — which marked the largest lead of the first half.
At halftime, the Panthers led 38-15 against the Vikings, coming off an upset over top-seeded Plattsburg in the semifinals.
Cass-Midway outscored North Platte by one in the third quarter —behind six points from Audrey Greer — but the trio of Sams, Brockhoff and Manville scored 13 in the fourth to seal the district title.
Brockhoff had 22, while Manville (14), Rice (13) and Sams (10) all finished in double figures.
The win vaults the Panthers back to the postseason for the first time in three years and the second time in four years under Davis.
“Life has changed a lot in three years, starting a family it feels like a lot longer than just three years,” said Davis, who was an assistant under Karl Matt. “You don’t count your chickens before they hatch. We might have left the press on a little too long, if it was a regular season game, but we wanted to make sure we had it in hand. I told the girls don’t count down the minutes, make every minute count.”
The seniors on this year’s team — Sams, Manville and Rice — were freshmen when the Panthers won the last district title and then lost to Santa Fe in the opening round of the postseason. The past two years, Santa Fe beat North Platte in the district tournament.
Now, the attention turns to Mid-Buchanan in the Class 2 playoffs, with a game at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at Staley High School in Kansas City.
The Dragons are 2-0 this year against North Platte, winning 65-57 in the KCI Tournament on Dec. 7 and 47-35 on Feb. 8 league play.
“We are excited to play them,” Davis said. “West Platte and Mid-Buch are kind of the closest schools to us and we get up for it. It is cool to have teams connect in the playoffs. A lot of times you are in the same district for it to be in a playoff game is cool for the KCI.”
North Platte 46, Lone Jack 33
North Platte was more than prepared for Lone Jack’s zone defense.
“I probably watched them eight or nine different times on tape and I hadn’t seen them do anything other than the 1-2-2 (zone) or the half court trap,” Panthers coach Ryan Davis said.
North Platte, displaying exceptional ball movement and patience in its win over Lone Jack in the semifinal round on Thursday, Feb. 21.
“It’s kind of nerve-racking, but it’s exciting. Everything’s thrilling,” senior Janell Manville said of advancing to a district championship game. “It feels really good. Hard work has paid off.”
The Panthers’ victory over Lone Jack was hardly in doubt, as North Platte was in control for much of the contest. The Panthers led 9-3 after a slow-paced first quarter before reeling off a 17-9 second frame to earn a 26-14 halftime advantage.
A lot of that first-half success can be attributed to the Panthers’ success against Lone Jack’s zone.
So what was the key? “Move the ball as fast as we can, and stay under control and keep it moving,” said Manville, who led a balanced North Platte attack with 16 points and two 3s.
“We’ve struggled to move the ball consistently most of the year,” Davis said. “But in the last five or six games we’ve moved the ball better, and I thought we did a good job tonight playing together and sharing the ball.”
The Panthers did just enough in the second half, outscoring Lone Jack 20-19, to earn their first district semifinal victory since 2016.
Senior Grace Rice contributed 12 points and two 3-pointers, and junior McKenzie Brockhoff added 11 points. Becca Roth was one of three Lone Jack scorers as she had a game-high 22 points and four treys.
“When you play districts at home you get a lot of fans in the stands, people are very excited,” Davis said. “So I thought the girls’ composure as far as playing the game and not trying to do too much and playing hard, just playing their sport.”