DEARBORN, Mo. — West Platte finally put the long losing streak in its rivalry to rest, even if the series appears to be far from over.
For the second time this season, the Bluejays downed North Platte, this time with a 42-35 victory in the KCI Conference matchup between the two teams on Friday, Jan. 6 at North Platte High School. That makes two straight for West Platte in the series after taking a KCI Conference Tournament first-round game in December to end a losing streak of more than a decade against the Panthers.
West Platte and North Platte were set to play again Monday, Jan. 9 in the opening round of the Lawson Invitational, just three days after the league game that officially gave West Platte the current upper hand in the rivalry.
“It was big to come out and win two straight,” said West Platte senior guard Nealie Niemeier, who led all scorers with 19 points. “Hopefully, we can do it again on Monday. That’s the plan.”
Despite playing without two injured starters, West Platte’s fast start provided just enough to avoid a second straight overtime game in the rivalry series.
North Platte cut the lead to four twice in the final minute with the Bluejays running long possessions in the latter part of the fourth quarter. Many of those ended with a bad shot or no shot at all, allowing the Panthers to trim a double-digit deficit to two possessions.
Niemeier and Heili (seven points) combined to go 5-for-6 on free throws late to avoid letting the lead slip away.
“We don’t do a very good job of being able to work the offense,” West Platte coach Jennifer Lawson said. “We get in a hurry and get in a rush. I told them, ‘Work the ball. Get a shot,’ and then nobody was looking to shoot after I said that.”
Both teams started slow but a trio of buckets — a jumpers for Niemeier and junior forward Rachel Heili plus a steal and layup for freshman Faith Stevens — put the Bluejays ahead 6-1. The run ballooned to 12-0 and a 14-1 lead for the visitors with North Platte going 1 for its first 7 on free throws in a frustrating first half.
Following the second timeout for North Platte, junior guard Alley Rickely buried a 3 for the Panthers’ first field goal with 1 minute, 53 seconds left in the first quarter.
West Platte then answered with six more in a row while North Platte’s free throw woes extended into the second quarter. The Bluejays went into halftime up 24-12 with Niemeier (14 points) outscoring the Panthers by herself in the first half.
“You don’t win a game in the first quarter, but you can lose one. That’s kind of what happened to us tonight,” North Platte coach Ryan Davis said. “What’s going to get lost (in the defeat) is they fought really hard just to scratch and claw to get back in the game. We didn’t really play well the whole night, but I thought we really fought hard after the first quarter.
“That’s the first step of the battle.”
West Platte’s offense slowed in the third quarter but the lead didn’t dip below eight until the fourth quarter.
Gracie Roach’s 3 pointer to open the fourth quarter pulled North Platte within 33-26, and Rickel went on to put up five of her team-high 12 points in the final 8 minutes. Janell Manville, a sophomore forward, added four of her nine in the closing action with the Panthers’ two most aggressive players pulling them back into contention to steal the win.
Manville’s putback off of a Roach miss from the left baseline made it 37-33 with 45.7 seconds left, but West Platte survived despite a lack of offense behind Niemeier.
“We could’ve won by more if we could’ve controlled the turnovers more,” Lawson said.
West Platte again played without sophomore point guard Hannah McGivern (head) and Karen Knox (undisclosed injury). McGivern returned Monday, but Knox will likely be out longer.
The absence of the two guards has pushed Stevens (five points) into the starting lineup and increased minutes for sophomore guard Lea Moose (four points) and junior forward Emily Norman (three points).
Plattsburg 55, West Platte 37
A slow second half doomed the Bluejays in their KCI Conference opener Thursday, Jan. 5 in Plattsburg, Mo., a game rescheduled from prior to the holiday break.
Niemeier scored 18 points in the first half with a pair of 3-pointers, and West Platte went into the break tied at 26-26. The Bluejays scored just four points in the third quarter, and foul trouble eventually caught up to Niemeier, who fouled out with a game-high 23 points.
North Andrew 35, North Platte 30, OT
The Panthers nearly stole a win Wednesday, Jan. 4 in Rosendale, Mo.
Roach hit two free throws with 6 seconds left in regulation to the score at 29-29. North Platte stole the ensuing inbounds but couldn’t convert a heavily contested layup at the buzzer that would have delivered the victory.
Down 31-30 late in overtime, North Platte committed a turnover, and North Andrew hit four straight free throws to ice the win.
Rickel led North Platte with nine points, while Roach and Manville added seven apiece. Neither team scored more than nine points in any quarter.
North Platte 47, Maysville 16
The Panthers returned to action with a convincing win Tuesday, Jan. 3 in Maysville, Mo., stopping a four-game losing skid.
Rickel had 15 points and two 3-pointers, while Roach had 10 points and two more treys. The duo combined to shoot 4-for-5 on 3s, helping North Platte bolt to a 43-13 lead after three quarters.
Mackenzie Sams led the defensive effort with six steals.
West Platte 60, North Platte 49
The Bluejays made it three straight in the series with a second victory in four days against their rival.
This time, North Platte started strong, taking a lead into the second and third quarters. West Platte then pulled away with 41 points in the second half — 25 in the fourth quarter alone.
Niemeier again starred with 24 points, while Stevens added 11. McGivern made her return from injury for West Platte with seven points.