By Dave Faries
Editor 

Kimball Boys Hold Off Gothenburg, Earn Trip To State

 

Dave Faries

Austin Pile snips a souvenir after Kimball's win in the district finals.

Through the noise of a boisterous crowd, through a furious battle on the court that one player described as akin to a football game, the Kimball Longhorns emerged with a district championship and a trip to state.

“I love this atmosphere,” Mike Daum shouted after the 51-40 win over Gothenburg, which stamped the team’s ticket to Lincoln for the second time in three years, the last coming in 2011.

On that occasion, the Longhorns lost a back and forth battle with Milford--an experience that still resonates with the junior and senior class.

“There are three more games to win,” Zach Rockhold-O’Brien said. “This is what we’ve been playing for since freshman year.”

Much of the Kimball student body, as well as a few hundred residents, traveled to Grant to witness the team’s shot at state redemption.

“It was loud,” Rockhold-O’Brien said. “That really helped a lot.”

The Swedes tried to silence the raucous Kimball crowd early on. Big center Tanner Borchardt found himself open in the paint on back to back possessions as the Longhorns struggled to adjust defensively.

But Caleb Reuter drained a three pointer and Daum added three more on a jumper and bonus. Gothenburg’s top shooter, senior Logan Koehler, responded with a put back. And Borchardt answered after Reuter scored on a lay up.

As the first period slipped past the halfway mark, Kimball clung to a narrow 10-8 advantage.

“It was like a wrestling match for awhile,” observed Longhorns head coach Bruce Tjosvold.

Both sides were grasping for the elusive force known as momentum, looking for a short run or a defensive stand.

With 3:29 to go in the first, Daum stepped back and swished a long three. He then drew a foul driving one on three, hitting both free throws. Meanwhile Kimball’s defense regrouped and forced three consecutive turnovers. Rockhold-O’Brien followed, slicing through Gothenburg’s big back line and depositing an underhanded lay up, putting Kimball on top 17-8.

“Zach and Caleb hit some early shots--that proved big,” Daum said.

Indeed, the Swedes soon pieced together an 8-0 run of their own, which extended into the second period and closed the gap to 17-16. Rockhold-O’Brien slipped in a street ball drive for two, but free throws by Koehler and a Blake Ristine turn around jumper erased the Longhorns lead.


For a brief moment, Gothenburg gulped clean air, 20-19.

“We were disappointed in the points we allowed in the first half,” Rockhold-O’Brien noted.

District championships ride on resolve, composure and the ability to strike back. And so Daum dropped a short jumper over Borchardt, Jake Reader barged along the baseline into space for another two, and Reuter forced a Gothenburg turnover by preventing an inbound pass.

As the first half wound down, Rockhold-O’Brien drained a three and Reader followed suit--an unexpected shot from the powerful forward known for his inside game.

“I’ve been making them in practice,” he explained.

The Longhorns led at the break, 31-23.

“It was tough,” Daum said of the first half, “but we hit our rhythm before they hit theirs.”

In the third, Kimball switched their attention to defense. They sealed gaps, fended off attempted drives and harried the Swedes into desperate heaves.

Gothenburg managed only 4 points in the period on 2 of 11 shooting.

“The coaches made a couple of adjustments at halftime,” Reuter pointed out--measures which included a suggestion by assistant Gene Mohr to lock Reuter and Reader onto Koelhler anytime he stepped toward the baseline.

“We felt like he was their best player,” Tjosvold said. “We didn’t want him hurting us.”

Although the Swedes also held Kimball in check through the eight minute sparring match, the tactical draw meant the difference in the game’s outcome.

“We never really got up on them,” Reuter admitted, “but we played tight defense.”

Daum hit from three-point range at the end of the third and Reader opened the final period with a pair of opportunistic lay ups, seized upon when sudden gaps opened in the lane.

“You can’t be intimidated by the big guys,” Reader said--Gothenburg’s line measured 6’8, 6’7 and 6’4--”you just take it in.”

The rest of the way, Kimball took advantage of the Swede’s desperate need to foul, hitting 10 of 14 from the line in the fourth quarter. Tjosvold also slowed his offense to a crawl.

“’Run, clock, run’” the coach said when asked about his thoughts down the stretch.

The C-1 state tournament begins in Lincoln on March 7, with first round games scheduled for the Pershing Center.

“We’ve been wanting to go again,” Reader said. “This time we want to win a couple--if not three.”

Vicki Stull

Jake Reader drives.

 

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