The St. Francis basketball team heads to the locker room after a 61-54 win over McCool Junction.
The St. Francis basketball team heads to the locker room after a 61-54 win over McCool Junction.

It was a tale of experience as the fifth-seeded Humphrey St. Francis Flyers (19-6) took on the fourth-seeded McCool Junction Mustangs (24-2). The Flyers are one year removed from a state championship loss and two years removed from a state championship win. Meanwhile the Mustangs were making their first state playoff appearance since 2003. The experience proved vital as the Flyers won 61-54. 

It was a fast start to the game with junior center Shelby Bandt scoring the first points of the day for the Mustangs. McCool Junction jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead. The Flyers quickly responded with their own run making the score 13-8. 

The rest of the first was the McKenna Yates show as the junior guard showcased why she is one of the top players in the class, either scoring or assisting on the next 10 Mustang points. The quarter ended with McCool Junction leading 23-13. 

The second quarter saw a rejuvenated St. Francis team as sophomore center Isabel Preister got an and-one but cut the Mustang lead to five. The 6-foot-1 center was able to dominate on the offensive board and help extend Flyer possessions. A three pointer by senior forward Leah Kosch tied the game up at 28. Preister gave the Flyers their first lead of the day, and a layup by senior guard Emma Baumgart extended the lead to four. McCool Junction evened the score up and it was tied up 32-32 at the half. 

The Flyers’ experience proved key in the third quarter. St. Francis brought out a full court press that they teased in the first half which gave them success on the defensive end. Baumgart and Preister took over for the Flyers giving them a 47-41 lead heading into the fourth. 

Senior guard Jadon Hess gave the Mustangs life in the fourth scoring four straight points. Yates ignited the McCool Junction crowd after blocking a for-sure Preister bucket. Junior guard Ella Clark hit a three to cut the Flyer lead to two. 

Baumgart silenced the Mustang crowd with a dagger three-pointer to give the Flyers a 53-48 lead. McCool Junction was unable to respond, leading to the only chance of a comeback to free throws. St. Francis did not struggle from the line and continued to extend their lead. 

Yates had enough time to hit two more deep threes, but they were not enough as St. Francis walked away with a 61-54 win. 

Preister and Baumgart were the stars for the Flyers. Preister had 24 points and a double-double. Baumgart had 15 including the clutch three. While it was not the result she wanted, Yates still had a very impressive 20 point showing. 

The Flyers advance to the semifinals which will be a rematch of last year’s Class D2 state title game against the first seeded Falls City Sacred Heart Irish. 

Anthony Rubek is a freshman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is a sports media and journalism double major at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. He is from La Vista, NE and one day hopes to cover sports as a writer. In his free time, he enjoys running and watching sports.