South Sioux City's
run through Class B competition continued for a second straight season Saturday when the Cardinals whizzed by Gretna
69-56 at the Devaney Center, claiming a second straight boys state basketball championship in Nebraska's second largest classification.
Spearheaded by high-scoring junior guards Mike Gesell
and Austin Groth
, South Sioux City put together a 22-2 mark during regular season competition before upending Holdrege 66-33 in Thursday's quarterfinals and slipping by Lincoln Pius X 50-47 to gain entry into a second straight state final.
Entering last weekend's state tournament, Gesell (25.9) and Groth (20.6) were harassing Cardinal opposition for more than 46 points a game collectively. Although they had similar scoring averages, both scoring more than 20 points a game, Gesell and Groth have come by their points in different ways.
Gesell, the Cardinal point guard, does an outstanding job of controlling the tempo of the game. He thrives on slashing to the basket and either scoring or dishing to an open teammate. Groth, on the other hand, is a pure shooter. Together they put opposing coaches on the edge of their seats for 32 minutes.
"They pretty much have to pick their poison," South Sioux City coach Terry Comstock said of his peers on the other side of the court. "If you guard one of them tight the other will get open looks. Together, they make a tough combination to stop."
Asked how he would defend the double scoring threat if he were coaching from across the court, Comstock admitted that he would have to settle for the typical game plans devised to slow down his attack, and hope for the best.
With all of the shooters he has at his disposal and 7-foot senior center Jose Bonilla
presiding in the middle, Cardinal opposition can't get too cute with junk defenses. They can't play South Sioux City straight up either.
"Honestly, I think I would try to do what's already been done," responded Comstock. "I would try to double Mike and then crowd Austin as much as I could – deny him the ball. I really don't know what else you can do. If you try to go one on one against these guys, you're going to be in for a tough night."
The Cardinals began the season with seven straight wins. During that time span, Groth led South Sioux City in scoring in four contests. Gesell led the way in the other three. For the season, Gesell was Cardinal scoring king in 21 contests, while Groth was top Cardinal five times.
"Austin is a very good shooter," Gesell said of the 6-2 shooting extraordinaire. "He can hit from anywhere. That really helps if I'm not hitting. He hit some very big shots for us this year. That's been huge because the other team can't key on me. He opens things up for me just like I do for him."
"He's a pretty good player," Groth said of Gesell. "All kinds of schools are looking at him. He's a scorer and a shooter…just a good all around player. We get paired up in practice every day and we really push each other. We're really pretty close – we're close on a basketball court. We've been playing together for a long time and each of us knows what the other is doing."
In 12 of the northeast Nebraska school's 27 games this season, Gesell and Groth each scored 20 points or more. Gesell's season high was a 41-point outburst during South Sioux City's 76-74 win over Norris in late December, Groth poured in his season high of 33 points during a 97-50 triumph over Omaha Roncalli in February.
Both Cardinal players connected on 40 percent of their shots from 3-point range for the year after chucking at least 87 attempts each from beyond the arc. In all, Gesell and Groth made 92 of 228 shots from long range. Besides scoring at a high clip Gesell was also adept at finding open teammates, averaging 8.2 assists a game in 2010-11. Gasell is not afraid to get his hands dirty on the boards either.
Groth is Comstock's best defender, constantly grabbing defensive responsibilities on the opponent's top offensive threat.
"It's very tiring," admitted Groth on drawing those stop responsibilities. "It takes a lot out of me. Sometimes we'll switch off so I can catch a break, but for the most part I defend the other team's best player."
As the 2010-11 season approached, the pressure to repeat was apparent to Gesell, Groth and the rest of the Cardinals, so Comstock's high-scoring squad had to put the first championship season behind them and focus on that upcoming season.
The typical hard work and commitment then took over, vaulting the defending champions into another great postseason run.
"It's amazing," Gesell said of claiming another first place trophy to go in an already full trophy case. "We worked so hard in the offseason — all season — and it has paid off. Winning a state title is the best feeling, especially when you do it with guys that you are close to. I'll remember this for the rest of my life. These are highlights I will never forget."
With the success Comstock has had the past two seasons, Groth doesn't expect any wholesale changes to take place in the offseason – just more of the usual Cardinal hard work. "We'll just try to get better at what we already do," said Groth.
Gesell has been drawing plenty of recruiting interest on the basketball court already. At the time he has offers from: Iowa, Nebraska, Drake, Creighton, Iowa State, Northern Iowa and Utah. It was reported by several sources that Stanford basketball coach Johnny Dawkins traveled to Lincoln to presumably watch Gesell play at the state tournament.
"It can be very humbling," Gesell said of the recruiting process. "I had to block it out during the season. You can't let it get to you. It's overwhelming but at the same time very exciting."
After graduation, Groth will more than likely continue his athletic career on a baseball diamond. The returning Class B first team all-state pitcher, who owns a 91 mph fastball, has received offers from Nebraska and Creighton so far.