BY: Jonathan Maness for

LOVELAND – The Sedgwick County girls basketball team won its first Class 2A state championship title and the Cougars needed to get by a familiar foe to win it.

No. 2-seeded Sedgwick County held off Lower Platte rival and top-seeded Merino, 47-43, to win the Class 2A state championship game at the Budweiser Events Center Saturday night.

“It’s such a great feeling,” Sedgwick County’s senior Allie Bernhardt said. “It’s just crazy and I’m so excited and proud of our team.”

It was the third time the two squads have faced this season. Merino won the first one, 55-49 in the league match and the Cougars edged Merino in the postseason bout 63-54.

“I don’t think they changed things up since the last time we played them,” said Sedgwick County’s coach Scott Dille. “(Defensively), we wanted to make them work.”

Bernardt and Lainee Nein each had the tough tasks of containing Merino’s junior Makenna Sutter, which is not an easy task.

“She’s a great player, we just didn’t want to give her anything easy,” Nein said. “We know them well. They are a tough team, we just had to work to beat them.”

It was a game of runs for the two powerhouses. The Cougars struck first jumping out to a 12-2 advantage early. Abigail Dille hit back-to-back treys to give the Cougars an early 10-point advantage.

Merino wasn’t going to go away. Makenna Sutter hit a trey and Kya Piel made a basket to bring the Rams within 15-7 after the first quarter.

Merino got rolling in the second, opening the quarter with a 10-2 run. Brooklyn and Makenna Sutter scored back-to-back baskets and then freshman Jay Lynch scored a pair of baskets to tie the game at 17.  A free throw by Piel gave Merino its first lead at 18-17. Sedgwick County answered to close the half with seven consecutive points, Avery Goddard scored the final four points to push the lead to 24-18 at the half.

Once again, Merino went in a run to open the second half. Makenna Sutter brought the Rams within three but a three-point play by Kierra Ehnes helped the Cougars take a 34-28 lead into the fourth.

Baskets by Emily Fowler and Nein pushed Sedgwick County’s lead to 10, but Merino wouldn’t go away. Piel and Makenna Sutter brought the Rams within 39-35 with three minutes to go. Goddard and Jensen Renquist answered to extend the lead to seven with a minute left in the game.

Brooklyn Sutter hit a trey and Jay Lynch made a pair of free throws to cut the lead to two, but Nein hit three clutch free throws to seal the victory.

“I was very nervous,” Lainee Nein said. “The hard work paid off, it’s an amazing feeling. I knew I needed to hit them for our team. The crowd doesn’t faze me.”

Makenna Sutter finished with 12 points to lead Merino, while Nein had 11 to lead Sedgwick County.

Sedgwick County ended the season 22-5 overall, while Merino finished the season 23-4 overall.

Briggsdale defeats McClave for program's first title

LOVELAND – The Briggsdale Falcons are bringing home their first Class 1A state championship banner.

Led by junior phenom Jenna Krise, the No. 3-seed Briggsdale defeated No. 1 McClave 53-37 Saturday night at the Budweiser Events Center in the Class 1A state championship game.

Krise found her spot on the court early and often as the Cardinals had no answer for her dynamic play.

“It just feels amazing,” said the junior, who scored a game-best 24 points. “My team and I have been working towards this since we were kids.”  

A year ago, the Falcons fell short of their first title bid – losing 52-43 to Flatiron Academy in the state championship game. The day after the loss, Krise told Briggsdale coach Colin Nicklas that they were going to beat Flatiron the next year. The junior stayed true to her words and hit the game-winning basket to help the Falcons beat Flatiron 45-44 in the semifinals and get their revenge on the defending state champions.

“She played for that all year,” Briggsdale coach Colin Nicklas said. “I’m just so happy for the girls. We lost last season in a heartbreaker. We have a group that came together and play for each other. They just wanted it for this community.” 

Nicklas had his concerns going into the Saturday’s game, especially after the emotional victory the night before. But those concerns went away early as Krise and the Falcons got going early.     

The first quarter was the Krise show. The Briggsdale star found ways to score in a variety of ways and found holes in McClave’s stout defense. She hit a pull-up jumper and then scored an and-1 to give Briggsdale an early 7-2 advantage. Abrielle Gomez hit a trey for McClave to cut the lead to two. But the Falcons ended the quarter on a 7-point run that was capped by a buzzer-beater basket by Krise to push Briggsdale advantage to 14-5.

“(Jenna) is a gamer,” Nicklas said. “Unbelievable athlete and unbelievable kid. She is the best player in the state at our level. Jena got confident early and when she gets going early, she is unstoppable.”

The Cardinals hit from deep to stay in the game. Ashlynn Steinbrunn and Kennedy Vallejos hit a pair of three-pointers to cut the lead to seven. However, Briggsdale closed the half on a 10-2 run with Kayl Klem scoring back-to-back baskets to advance the Falcons lead to 33-18 at halftime.

McClave struggled to cut into the lead in the second half, turning the ball over on five of its first seven possessions of the half. The turnovers lead to early baskets for Briggsdale. Krise hit a trey off of a turnover and Macie Klem scored to push the lead to 23. Chloe Weber hit a pullup jumper for McClave, but the Cardinals still faced a 46-25 deficit after three quarters. 

With a sizeable lead the Falcons began to take the air out of the ball in the fourth. McClave did go on a 7-point run in the fourth with Gomez drilling another three-pointer and Steinbrunn scoring a fast-break basket. But the run was too late for the Cardinals.

The loss ended an impressive run for McClave, that went into Saturday’s title game with a perfect 25-0 record. Briggsdale finished the season 24-2 overall.

“We knew (McClave) wanted to play fast and play aggressive,” Nicklas said. “(Briggsdale) was locked in and they were ready and executed.”