Thrillers galore in area top 10 games of 2018

This is the third time I’ve gone through the entire sports calendar year to find the best games of the year and I’ve looked forward to it more and more every year.
2018 had overtime thrillers, huge upsets, tough losses and even a couple common opponents. I started this list with 13 games and made the tough choices to narrow the list to the top 10.
Here are your top 10 games from 2018:
1. Aurora defeats Wahoo in overtime on the road...in basketball
I promise you, this isn’t a prisoner of recent memory type moment. I admitted to several people after this game that it was one of the best high school basketball games I’ve ever seen. I still stand by that. Aurora held on for a 76-74 win in overtime.
The Huskies went from dominating the game with a double-digit advantage to completely blowing the lead and trailing by two possessions with around two minutes to go. After several lead changes in the final two minutes, Aurora hit a free throw late that sent the game to overtime.
The extra period is where Aurora senior Baylor Scheierman shone brightest, converting a three-pointer and slam dunk in back-to-back possessions that gave Aurora a 76-70 lead with 1:16 to go, a lead the Huskies wouldn’t relinquish, though it wasn’t easy.
Wahoo had a chance to either tie or win the game at the buzzer as the Warriors had an in-bounds play with four seconds left. Wahoo took a three-pointer that bounced off iron, but was rebounded by a Warrior player and had enough time for a putback. That shot wouldn’t find the net either, as Aurora held on for the win.
2. Stormdogs upset BDS in D-1 playoffs
This was an outcome that I really couldn’t believe as it unfolded. The big, bad and mighty BDS team was getting outmanned by the newly consolidated Osceola-High Plains team that limped into the playoffs with injuries and other setbacks.
OHP ended the Eagles’ 21-game win streak in a similar fashion that BDS won each of those previous 21 games -- smashmouth football.
Osceola-High Plains scored on the opening drive and set the tone early, surviving a see-saw battle to advance with a 34-22 road win on a soggy night for football in Bruning.
The Eagles were headed for a go-ahead score when Carson Watts picked off an Eagle pass and returned it 57 yards to the house. It was the first of several big plays in what proved to be one of the best playoff games of the first round.
Now with the lead, the ball and a clock that was winding past the nine minute mark, the Stormdogs put together a nail-in-the coffin drive, relying heavily on runs by Keaton Van Housen and Dylan Soule. When Soule crossed the goal-line from six yards out, OHP pushed its lead to 12 with just over seven minutes to play.
3. Aurora soccer wins over Lakeview in extra time
This is the first time the Aurora soccer program has appeared in the top 10 list and with good reason. The improvements made since its inception on both the boys and girls teams is incredible, and with that comes closer, more thrilling matches, like this 4-3 overtime win over Columbus Lakeview.
Eli Warnke recorded a hat trick for the Huskies in the victory, including the game-winning goal in overtime that turned out to be Aurora’s first win of the season.
Aurora pushed the lead to 3-1 late in the first half, including two goals from Warnke and another from captain Grant Moody.
It was in the second 10-minute period that Warnke again got free behind the Lakeview defense and scooted the ball past the goaltender, taking the lead 4-3.
It wasn’t over then, however, as the game still had some time on the clock. Lakeview got in a couple shots, including one that bounced off the crossbar, but Jake Penner saved the game for the Huskies.
4. Giltner makes another CRC moment
There’s nothing quite like the CRC tournament, we know that. The Giltner boys basketball team won the crown in 2018 and needed a 56-44 win over Exeter-Milligan to do it.
The double-digit win is very misleading. The Hornets were actually getting smacked in this game until senior Josh Hinrichs put the team on his back. The senior scored 21 of his game-high 24 points in the second half to erase a 27-19 halftime deficit.
The Hornets never led in the game until the 2:42 mark of the third quarter off a Hinrichs bucket at the rim, something the Timberwolves couldn’t find an answer for.
From the time Giltner initially took the lead late in the third until the 49-43 Giltner advantage in the fourth, Hinrichs scored 16 consecutive points for the Hornets, including the first nine of the final quarter.
The win for Giltner in the CRC finals is the boys’ first championship since 2012 and third since 1992.
5. Lady Hornets denied trip to state
Sometimes, some of the best games come out in losses for the area team, like this one for Giltner. Here’s the lead from the game story:
It seemed, even for just a moment, that the Giltner Lady Hornets had fended off a fourth match point and were just three points away from tying up the fifth set.
As the Lady Hornets began to cheer the ball was still live, when Nebraska Christian found an opening in the back right corner to score the 15th and final point, qualifying for state the second year in a row. Giltner went down to defeat in the D1-5 district final at Aurora, 25-23, 13-25, 25-13, 21-25, 15-10.
After charging back to keep the match alive by winning the fourth set, Giltner looked to keep the momentum up to start the decisive final game.
It didn’t turn out that way, however, as Nebraska Lutheran scored five of the first six points and eventually held an 11-4 lead by the time Giltner used its second timeout.
Giltner junior Cassidy Tompkin recorded a match-high 25 kills to go along with 10 digs and four blocks while Brooke Good added her own double-double of 17 attacks and 21 digs.
6. Lady Husky soccer team earns first postseason win
As mentioned earlier, this is Aurora girls’ soccer first appearance in the top 10 list and they earned this spot.
The Lady Huskies fought off a late rally from Grand Island Northwest to earn a 2-1 victory in the opening round of the B-7 subdistrict tournament.
GINW scored with three minutes left in the game to make it 2-1 as Aurora coach Micayla Dunn described the last three minutes of the match the most stressful as she’s ever had.
The Lady Huskies played the first half with the wind at its back and used that advantage to take an early lead with a goal from Brooke Williams off an assist from Bailey Collingham. The goal scored by Williams was her first career goal.
Collingham sliced a kick into the stiff wind as it bent from right to left, bouncing off the left post and into the goal for a score in the early part of the second half to make it 2-0.
7. Huskies move to state finals with win over Wahoo
The Aurora football team more than earned a spot in this list somewhere, the only problem being most of its games were decided by halftime. Aurora’s 31-10 win over Wahoo in the state semifinals was not, however.
Down 10-7 at the break in temperatures hovering below 10 degrees, the Huskies came out like a team on a mission. Senior quarterback Baylor Scheierman led a go-ahead drive to start the third quarter, which included a record-breaking pass to Jordan Stevenson on a third and short.
The completion broke Scott Frost’s all-class record for yards in a single season, just one of many records he and the Huskies smashed this season en route to a undefeated C1 championship.
8. Aurora girls take down No. 1 Elkhorn
This was another one of those outcomes that just seemed to come out of nowhere.
Aurora took down top-ranked and previously unbeaten Elkhorn, losing a double-digit fourth quarter lead before exploding in overtime to win a thriller, 53-41.
Elkhorn trimmed the lead to five with 90 seconds to go, sending Aurora to the line while continuing to apply full-court pressure. The front end of two consecutive one-and-one’s rimmed out for the Lady Huskies, giving Elkhorn a chance to tie it up with 30 seconds to go.
Aurora took a timeout with 16 seconds left and ran the clock down to 5, when Williams had an open look from the left arc for the game-winner. It bounced away, sending the game into overtime.
The OT period looked much like the opening quarter, as Aurora took the lead with a Williams trey and used a balanced attack to build a lead. Williams scored six of her team-high 16 points in the period, including three free throws. The team hit a combined 12 of 16 shots from the stripe to win going away.
9. Lady Huskies outlast Columbus in five
Home court matters -- even in volleyball.
Motivated by a raucous Dog Pound, the Aurora volleyball team made several clutch plays down the stretch, outlasting Columbus in five sets, 20-25, 28-26, 25-21, 15-25 and 15-13 in its home opener in September.
The Lady Huskies entered the fifth and deciding set off the heels of a slow and struggling set four in which Columbus won easily, 25-15.
The first few moments were fairly even until Addie Smith smashed a kill and recorded a block in back-to-back plays to give Aurora a 6-4 lead and forced Columbus to take a timeout.
However, the Discoverers scored five of the next six to take a 9-7 lead.
Columbus carried a lead of 11-8 when the Lady Huskies rallied, using attacks from Lauren Feely and Makayla Eberly followed by a nifty ace by Megan Snyder that tied the set up at 12-all.
With the crowd on its feet and bursting with energy, Paxtyn Dummer sent a curving serve over the net that Columbus mishandled, giving Aurora the set and match.
10. Giltner bests Hampton in midseason matchup
Some of the most fun had on the sidelines during the year is watching two area teams meet up and go toe-to-toe.
It was a back and forth matchup that fans have come to expect from the Hamilton County rivals, but the decider went to the host Hornets with scores of 25-18, 21-25 and 25-21 over Hampton.
The score would be knotted up three more times in the first set at 8, 14 and 15 before Giltner kept the lead for good, winning it 25-18.
The second set was back and forth as things would end up tight at the end of the set with Giltner slicing the Hawk advantage to a three-point gap before the Lady Hawks would pull away and win 25-21.
Being a triangular, it was a best of three instead of best of five. In the third, the two teams traded the lead back and forth several times before the Lady Hornets garnered a 21-20 lead.
Hampton called a time out to slow the momentum that Giltner had, but would not work.
Giltner scored four of the final five points to come away victorious, 25-21.
I’d like to tip my hat to this year’s state champions, which include Logan Russell from High Plains in wrestling as well as Aurora’s Caleb Badura in boys golf, both winning back-to-back state championships.
There was also the Giltner girls track team, who won its fourth consecutive team championship at Burke with seniors Alexa Preissler, Reagan Janzen and Jordan Hansen going their entire high school career as track champions.
Last but certainly not least was the Aurora football team that made each week look easy in its undefeated C1 championship season.
It was so much fun to see all of those athletes compete at such a high level on a pressure-packed stage.
Here’s to another solid list of thrillers to come in 2019. See everyone on the sidelines.  
RICHARD RHODEN can be reached at sports@hamilton.net.

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