Boys claim Chadron tourney title

Jason Ferguson

The Custer High School boys basketball team improved its record to 4-2 by picking up a pair of wins on its way to winning the Chadron (Neb.) Rotary Classic last weekend at the Chicoine Center on the campus of Chadron State College.
The Wildcats opened the tournament with a 75-50 win over Valentine, Neb., before defeating host Chadron 52-38 in the championship game.
In the win over Chadron the Wildcats used a staunch defensive effort—including holding the Cardinals to four points in the opening frame—to come away with the win.
“It was probably the best performance with our man defense I have seen in a long time,” head coach Paul Kelley said. “We’ve been telling our kids our identity should be our defense. It wasn’t one kid doing things spectacularly, they all did their jobs and communicated. We had them on their heels from the very beginning.”
The score was 15-4 after eight minutes had been played.  Kyle Virtue, who finished with a game-high 20 points, had seven of the Wildcats’ first-period points.
 The second quarter was much closer. Custer outscored the Cardinals by just two points—16-14—making the halftime score 31-18.
The Cardinals even outscored the Wildcats in the third stanza—11-7—to cut the difference to 38-29 going into the fourth.  However, the Wildcats managed 12 of the first 14 points the opening two-and-half minutes of the last quarter to go ahead 50-31 and salt the game away.
Things got touchy a bit later. Chadron coach Kyle Sanders admitted that he tried to draw a technical foul, hoping it would fire up his team. Yes, he got the technical. A bit later he was issued another technical for not maintaining his composure on the bench and was forced to leave the court.
Virtue was joined in double figures by Cade Lehman, who had 10 points, and Gage Grohs, who also scored 10.
“Gage has really made great progress for us. He may not score double figures every night, but he flies around, rebounds, and does a good job,” Kelley said.
The Wildcats had little trouble in the opening round against Valentine, cruising to a 75-50 win.
The Wildcats led 21-14 after one quarter and were ahead 39-23 at halftime.
Four players scored in double-figures for Custer.  The leader was Virtue, who finished with 21 points, 12 of them in the fourth stanza.  Lehman added 15, Rhett Lowe sank four shots from behind the arc for 12 points and Carter Boyster posted 10 points and nine rebounds. Lehman also dished out eight assists.
Kelley left last month’s Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI) hoping a third scorer would step forward to ease the load on Virtue and Lowe, and found that in Lehman and Boyster, who Kelley said settled into a rhythm that wasn’t present at LNI.
“That was huge,” Kelley said.
The Wildcat full-court press was big in the win over Valentine, as it resulted in numerous Badger turnovers. Kelley did say he was somewhat disappointed in the ’Cats’ half court defense in the game.
“We knew we had to give it more of a defensive effort (against Chadron),” he said. “Our kids stepped up and did the things they needed to do.”
The Wildcats will head to Mitchell Saturday for the Sacred Hoops Classic at the Corn Palace, where they will take on the Winner Warriors. The Warriors are 3-0 and have a strong inside outside game, including 6-7 post Shawn Hammerbeck.
“It’s going to be a true test to see where we sit going against them,” Kelley said. “The big thing is our focus on defense and doing what we’re supposed to do. That gives us a chance to win at the end of the game.”
Chadron State College information services officer Con Marshall contributed to this story.

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