GOTHENBURG — With Paxton starting a 6-foot-11 center, Axtell knew it had to knock down shots from beyond the arc to thrive on the offensive end Tuesday night.
That offensive philosophy worked the first three quarters. But in the fourth period, the Wildcats’ offense went cold.
They held a three-point lead after Tyler Danburg drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key in the opening minute of the fourth period. However, Danburg’s 3-pointer was one of just two baskets the Wildcats made in the final quarter.
The Wildcats’ fourth-quarter offensive inefficiencies led to them falling to Paxton, 53-45, in the D1-5 District Final at Gothenburg High.
“We have some good shooters, and we knew we were going to have to make some outside shots tonight,” Axtell coach Brent Hinrichs said. “We had to take quite a few tonight. It was kind of the game plan. We knew we had to make several 3-pointers. They had us severely outside-inside. We got good shooters, and if we have good looks we are going to take it.”
The Tigers (21-3) relied heavily on Blake Brewster, their starting center, at the offensive end most of the game. The Wildcats (18-7) consistently double-teamed and even triple-teamed Brewster at times. But the Wildcats’ defense wasn’t all that effective, as Brewster finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Brewster didn’t carry the Tigers the final six minutes of the game, however.
With the Wildcats leading 43-40 after Danburg’s basket from beyond the arc with 7 minutes, 25 seconds left, the Tigers turned to Dayo Kennedy. The junior forward created his own shot and attempted some highly contested looks. But he manged to score nine points in about a three-minute stretch to push the Tigers ahead, 51-45, with 2:08 left.
“We had them there for a second and things then just went south,” Hinrichs said. “Credit Kennedy. He really took over there for about a three-minute span. He made some tough jumpers. I thought we were in front of him and got a hand in his face, but he played well down the stretch.”
Although the Wildcats fell one victory short of their first state tournament berth since 2016, they had a tremendous season.
They experienced a six-win improvement, made a remarkable run through the Fort Kearny Conference Tournament to capture the title as the sixth seed and defeated top-seeded Pleasanton in the subdistrict final to advance to the district final.
“It was a fun team. They did a heck of a job,” Hinrichs said. “We’ve just been gaining every step all year, and we were hoping to gain one more step and get to Lincoln. But it just wasn’t meant to be tonight.”
Paxton 53, Axtell 45
Scores By Quarter
Axtell (18-7)20 7 13 5 — 45
Paxton (21-3)18 9 13 13 — 53
AXTELL — Tyler Danburg 19, Zachary Hinrichs 15, Brennan Runge 8, Jacob Wehrer 3.
PAXTON — Dayo Kennedy 19, Blake Brewster 14, Dane Storer 10, Alexander Kriha 4, Keegan Schow 4, Davin Helmer 2.