KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After Emmie Lee’s jumper went down to finally create a tie, Santa Fe opted not to call a timeout.
Instead, the Chiefs went down the floor with just 30 seconds remaining in regulation, and Sadie Limback converted a tough shot in the middle of the lane for what turned out to be the winning basket in a Class 2 sectional matchup Wednesday, March 2 at Staley High School. Kylee Kuecker hit a pair of free throws with 1.7 seconds left to seal the 57-53 win, which ended the career for seven North Platte seniors — Emmie Lee, Maddie Lee, Erin Manville, Brittney Gerling, Kaycee Hodgson, Kailey Pike and Holly Sanders.
“Just two really good teams going at it, tied at 53 with 30 seconds to go,” North Platte coach Ryan Davis said. “I wish we could’ve got the ball right back, but they had the ball and made a basket. That’s what good teams do.”
A timeout gaffe in the Class 2 District 16 championship game the previous week helped extend North Platte’s season and offer one last chance in the playoffs for the accomplished seniors.
The Panthers fought back to take a late lead before South Harrison’s coach took an extra timeout, resulting in a technical foul that led to the winning free throw in a one-point win. The playoff berth added to a successful season that saw Manville return from a second torn ACL in late December to lead a late-season surge.
North Platte finished at 24-5 in Davis’ first season, including a 7-0 run through the KCI Conference that extended the Panthers’ league winning streak to 23 straight games. The seniors helped win three consecutive conference titles in addition to the three playoff trips, the last one ending with Santa Fe advancing to the quarterfinals for a second straight year.
“We could’ve gone farther, but it just didn’t happen,” Emmie Lee said. “I’m happy with what our team did.”
Against Santa Fe, North Platte didn’t lead at any point in the second half, undone by the combination of foul trouble and lack of rebounding.
Maddie Lee hit a 3 early in the second quarter to give the Panthers their last lead at 15-13. Shortly after, Manville went to the bench with two fouls, joining Hodgson, who ended up with just two points in limited action. Santa Fe’s Cara Hinz hit a 3 to start a 9-0 run that lasted nearly 4 full minutes.
A layup from sophomore reserve Gracie Roach and two buckets from Emmie Lee, who finished with a team-high 16 points, pulled North Platte back within 24-22, but the Chiefs went into halftime up 27-22.
Santa Fe’s inside duo of senior Kylie Limback (20 points) and Sadie Limback (19 points) provided the bulk of offense and kept North Platte to under 10 offensive rebounds after the Panthers grabbed 23 against South Harrison.
“We are not the greatest at putting the ball in the hole so we’ve got to have extra opportunities, and they limited us,” Davis said.
North Platte drew within one right at the start of the third quarter on a Maddie Lee layup and a fancy assist for Manville on Hodgson’s lone bucket.
Later, Emmie Lee hit a shot to make it 33-32 with just more than 3 minutes to go before the fourth quarter, but Kylie Limback immediately answered with a three-point play. Down four going into the fourth quarter, North Platte went scoreless for the next 4:09, but the Chiefs could only extend their lead to nine.
North Platte’s defense nearly melted the deficit away with the Chiefs wilting against increased pressure.
Erin Manville led the charge with nine of her 14 points coming in the second half to go with four steals. Gerling’s steal led to a miss and her own putback with 1:43 left in regulation to make it 51-47, and Roach’s right baseline floating jumper made it 53-51 with 1:02 to go.
Santa Fe immediately committed its final turnover, and Emmie Lee’s free throw line jumper tied the score with 34 seconds to play.
After Sadie Limback’s go-ahead basket, North Platte worked the ball to Maddie Lee (11 points) on the right block but her contested shot went long. The loose ball went out of bounds before Gerling could secure a second chance.
Santa Fe ran out more than 8 seconds with North Platte unable to commit a foul until 1.7 seconds remained. Kuecker hit two free throws to put the Chiefs up four, and Emmie Lee launched a deep 3 that didn’t matter, leaving the Panthers to trudge through the postgame handshake line.
“I felt like we couldn’t get stops there in the fourth quarter,” Davis said. “I thought we gave all we had.”
The wild win against South Harrison pushed North Platte back into the playoffs, the Panthers’ seventh trip in eight seasons. They ended up receiving one more memorable finish, only this time coming out on the other end of the result.
“That South Harrison game, they’ll remember that until they’re 90 years old,” Davis said. “I thought there for a brief second they’d remember the Santa Fe game the same way. And they still will remember it, still an excellent ball game.”