basketball sits on the court before the game starts
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Thunderbirds Sweep Metro Holiday Tournament Titles at Bellevue West

January 03, 2023

The Metro Holiday Tournament crowned its champions on Monday night at the Bellevue West Thunderdome as the Thunderbirds swept the titles for the second time in school history.

Previous round coverage: Quarterfinals | Semifinals

GIRLS CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 7 Bellevue West 55, No. 1 Millard South 53

The home team pulled off the upset and dethroned the three-time reigning champions to improve to 10-1 and claim their first Metro title since the 2013-14 season (and fifth overall).

Bellevue West entered the tournament with a 5-1 record as the No. 7 seed after a handful of close wins and a five-point loss to Papillion-La Vista South in the second game of the season, but the Thunderbirds put fourth their best efforts thus far to win four games in five days and take down the top three seeds in the process.

“We’ve got some new kids that are playing some new roles,” coach Dane Bacon said. “We had a lot of really good players last year that graduated, so a lot of kids were trying to find their way. We had some injuries early that we had to battle through, but our kids have just stayed together. We talked about becoming more of a team after our first loss at Papio South and I think our kids are doing it.” 

Junior guard Naomi White capped a tremendous tournament with a 20-point, nine-rebound, three-assists performance while junior backcourt partner Ahnica Russell-Brown added 11 points and four boards.

Bellevue West shot the lights out to knock off Omaha Central in the semifinals, but he Thunderbirds won with their defense in the final. They overcame shooting 5-of-17 from 3 and turnover the ball over 17 times by holding the Patriots to 32.1% shooting.

“We respect them a ton, they’re so good, they’re a great program,” Bacon said. “We’re just trying to do half the things that they’ve done in their program. But it took everything, it took every every person in our program to get that one done.”

Millard South opened up a nine-point lead midway through the first quarter with back-to-back 3s from Khloe Lemon, who was in the starting lineup after leaving the Patriots’ semifinal win with an injury. Bellevue West rallied to take a three-point edge early in the second quarter but Millard South closed the half on an 11-3 run to take a 31-27 lead at the break.

Bellevue West tied it up twice, but Millard South scored five straight to push the lead to five at 40-35 heading into the fourth. After shooting 4-for-6 from deep in the first quarter, the Thunderbirds missed all nine attempts from deep in the second and third periods.

However, Kenzie Melcher opened the fourth with a trey, sparking a 12-2 run that gave the T-Birds a 47-44 lead midway through the period. Cora Olsen scored at the rim to break up the run, but Bellevue West continued to execute and hit shots, extending the lead out to 53-47 with a 6-1 run capped by a Russell-Brown pull-up jumper with just under two and a half minutes to play.

Millard South ran a play to get Olsen in the post and she converted, but Melcher answered with a pull-up jumper in transition to quickly push it back to six. The Patriots misfired from 3 but Bellevue West missed the front end of the bonus to keep the door ajar for a last-minute comeback.

Millard South forced three turnovers and Olsen scored four points in the last 46 seconds to make it a one-point game with 2.9 to play. Millard South coach Bryce Meyers drew up a play to get the ball to Olsen, an Omaha signee, but her shot at the buzzer came up just a bit short.

Bellevue West shot 8-for-11 from the field in the fourth quarter to secure the victory as Melcher hit all three of her shots after a quiet first there quarters. 

Dani Coyer, the junior forward who missed the first seven games of the season with an injury, scored six of her 12 in the fourth and hit all five or her shots and both of her free throws in the game while corralling 11 rebounds for the double-double and blocking two shots.

“The fact that that kid’s playing after her injury is amazing and it’s a testament to her character and just the type of person she is to fight back from that and do some of those things on one of the biggest stages,” Bacon said.

Olsen finished with a game-high 22 points and five rebounds. Lemon pitched in 15 points, four rebounds and three assists. Kent State signee Mya Babbitt added 14 points, six rebounds and three steals.

BOX SCORE

No. 1 Millard South:  19-12-  9-13 — 53

No. 7 Bellevue West: 20-  7-  8-20 — 55

MS: Cora Olsen 22, Khoe Lemon 15, Mya Babbitt 14, Miranda Kelly 1, Juliana Jones 1

BW: Naomi White 20, Dani Coyer 12, Ahnica Russell-Brown 11, Kenzie Melcher 9, Zhyael Dotzler 3

BOYS CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 1 Bellevue West 66, No. 7 Omaha Creighton Prep 44

Creighton Prep gave itself a chance in the first half, but a dominant third quarter blew the game open for the Thunderbirds as they completed the Bellevue West Metro title sweep in front of a capacity crowd at the Thunderdome.

“To have it done here, it’s really special,” coach Doug Woodard said. “The girls played outstanding the whole tournament and we’re just so happy for them. Hopefully this won’t be the high-water mark for either one of us.”

Bellevue West overcame its worst shooting game of the season (42.4% from the field, 25% from 3 and 3-of-11 from the free-throw line) with a stifling defensive effort, pulling away from Crighton Prep in the second half to earn its 10th straight win by more than 20 points to open the season.

Creighton signee Josiah Dotzler passed the 80-point mark in the tournament with a 20-point performance on 8-of-12 from from the field including 2-of-4 from deep and 2-of-4 from the foul line. He added five points, five assists and two steals as well.

Junior guard Jaden Jackson added 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting (3-of-8 from 3) and four rebounds while junior forward Jacob Arop added 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting plus six rebounds off the bench.

The Junior Jays got off to a great start, racing out to an 8-2 lead as the Thunderbirds missed nine of their first 10 shots. Prep led 11-6 before a 4-0 run to end the quarter for Bellevue West made it a one-point game.

The lead changed hands a few times early in the second quarter before a 6-0 run including two step-back jumpers from Jackson gave the T-Birds a five-point lead. The Junior Jays cut it down to one before Jackson knocked down a 3-pointer — Bellevue West’s first of the game after 11 straight misses. Dotzler answered a PJ Newbill layup with a bucket of his own to make it 25-21 Bellevue West heading into halftime.

Creighton Prep ran out of gas in the second half, however, as the Thunderbirds opened the third quarter with 11 straight stops — six misses from the field and five turnovers. Michael Burt finally got the Junior Jays on the board with a free throw at the 1:45 mark then Joey Rieschl scored a layup, but Bellevue West outscored Prep 17-3 in the quarter to build a 42-24 after three.

“Shooting obviously didn’t get it done, but when you hold them to three in a quarter and you can get healthy into double digits, you’re going to get a little separation,” Woodard said. “Prep is a very good, solid defensive basketball team. They took stuff away from us, we settled for a lot of kind of dead-leg jump shots on the fourth game in five days and that’s not an easy thing.”

The cold shooting wasn’t contained to the Thunderbirds as Prep didn’t make its first 3-pointer until Eddie Hubner banked one in at the 6:25 mark of the fourth quarter; they went 0-for-7 in the first three quarters.

After shooting sub-40% from the field in the first three quarters including 3-of-22 from 3, Bellevue West caught fire in the fourth and poured in 24 points, 13 of them by Dotzler who didn’t miss from the field. 

Prep nearly doubled its point total with 20 in the fourth as well including seven points with a pair of triples from freshman point guard Torran Carter Brown, but the late spurt only cut the deficit from 30-plus down to 22 at the final buzzer.

Junior Dillon Claussen capped a terrific tournament with a team-high 12 points on 3-of-6 from the field and 5-of-6 from the foul line with seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. Newbill chipped in 10 points and eight boards.

After the Junior Jays topped 60 while shooting better than 50% from the field and 40% from 3 against No. 2 seed Gretna and No. 3 seed Millard North, Bellevue West held them to 34.5% shooting.

“Hopefully one thing it shows them is you better put your stock in what you do at the defensive end, because that shooting can go at any time,” Woodard said. “I don’t care how good of a shooting team you are, it can just leave you. But if you have that other end, you can always fall back on that and hopefully we can get that lesson from this.”

BOX SCORE

No. 1 Bellevue West:                10-15-17-24 — 66

No. 7 Omaha Creighton Prep: 11-10- 3-20 — 44

BW: Josiah Dotzler 20, Jaden Jackson 15, Jacob Arop 10, Jaxon Stueve 7, Eldon Tuner 5, Josh High 3, Robby Garcia 2, Isaiah McMorris 2, J’Dyn Bullion 2

OCP: Dillon Claussen 12, PJ Newbill 10, Torran Carter Brown 7, Joey Rieschl 6, Eddie Hubner 5, Marquis Toliver 3, Michael Burt 1

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