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Bulldogs drop a one-point heartbreaker to Perkins County

SIDNEY, Neb. - After a thrilling comeback in the C2-12 Sub-Districts Final last Thursday against their rival Bayard Tigers, the Bridgeport Bulldogs (17-9, 10-0 C2-12) found themselves one step away from a state tournament berth. All that stood in the way was the Class C2-6 District Final against a South Platte Valley Association (SPVA) opponent in the Perkins County Plainsmen (15-7, 5-2 C2-11) at the Cabela’s Athletic Facility in Sidney Monday night.

These two squads met just ten days ago on the hardwood with the Plainsmen holding on to a six-point win, 60-54, on their home court in Grant. The two possession game was nothing new in the recent series between both teams as the last four games had been decided by ten points or less, and with a state tournament bid on the line, the crowd on hand, and both coaches, expected another classic.

The Bulldogs were searching for their first state tournament appearance since 2015 while Perkins County came in on a decade long drought with their last trip to Lincoln coming in 2008.

The first quarter saw two evenly matched teams trading blows as the Plainsmen knocked down the first bucket of the game, but Bridgeport answered right back moments later. By the end of the opening eight minutes, Perkins County held a two-point advantage, 11-9.

The lead was built to five at one point, however the Bulldogs came storming back going on an 8-2 run to end the half behind six points from junior Kaleb Lussetto and five from fellow junior Logan Nichols in the quarter to take a 21-19 lead into the locker room.

The momentum acquired at the end of the first half carried over to the second as Bridgeport began the third quarter on a 12-4 run to lead by 10, 33-23. Junior Drake DeMasters began to assert himself in the paint scoring eight points in the frame with the Plainsmen seemingly unable to find an answer for the 6’5” post player. But with five seniors on their roster, the Plainsmen refused to lay down despite the double digit deficit.

As the final quarter approached, Perkins County began to slowly climb their way back into the game trailing by just four at the end of the third, 34-30. Leading scorer, senior Josh Johnston, had been held scoreless up until the final eight minutes due to good defense from the Bulldogs and his own foul trouble causing him to sit for several minutes at a time. With four fouls going into the fourth, he began to find his groove hitting a three to open the fourth and cut the lead to one. Another bucket gave the Plainsmen their first lead since the second quarter, 35-34, with six minutes to go and the game reverted back to the opening quarter, back-and-forth.

The lead changed hands multiple times down the stretch as DeMasters continued his strong play scoring another six in the final stanza, but in the final minute, Bridgeport found themselves trailing by one, 43-42. With 16 seconds remaining, Perkins County senior Michael Beck stepped to the foul line for a one-and-one free throw opportunity. Beck entered the game best on the team at 77 percent on 48 free throw attempts this season, but clanked the first one off the front iron with DeMasters pulling in the rebound.

After a quick timeout by Bulldogs head coach Nick Broz, the team in black and purple came back onto the court with a chance to take the lead in the waning moments of the game. An inside feed intended for DeMasters was knocked away by the interior defense from the Plainsmen and a foul called with four seconds to go sending Johnston to the line for another one-and-one opportunity.

With no timeouts, Bridgeport would have to do something quick even if the senior knocked down both shots as the lead will still have only been three. Much like his teammate, Beck, Johnston hit the first free throw off the iron with the rebound landing in the hands of freshman Cole Faessler. Faessler dribbled as close to half court as he could and launched a prayer at the buzzer, but his heave fell short of the hoop as Perkins County held on to win, 43-42.

DeMasters led all scorers with 20 points while also pulling in ten rebounds on his way to earning player of the game. Beck, despite missing the front end of a one-and-one, led the Plainsmen with 11.

Lussetto joined his teammate in double digits with 10 for the Bulldogs while Nichols totaled seven and the other five belonged to senior Eric Stevens who played his final basketball game for Bridgeport. He and Kyle Kildow will, presumably, be the only two players leaving from this year’s squad which gives reason for a lot of optimism looking ahead to next season for the Bulldogs.

 

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