They say defense wins championships and a 32-minute defensive effort Friday helped North Platte St. Pat’s advance to the Class D1 state finals.

The Irish will battle for their second straight Class D1 state boys basketball championship Saturday morning. St. Pat’s (25-2) will face Johnson Brock (23-4). Tip off is set for 9 a.m. at the Pinnacle Bank Arena.

The Irish showed grit as they edged Dundy County-Stratton, 43-40, in the semifinal game at the Devaney Center.

On the last play, the Irish forced Andrew Englot to heave a shot from beyond the three-point arc on the left side. The ball banked off the backboard, hit the rim and fell away, and St. Pat’s moved on to their second straight state final.

“Our defense was really good and it was never more important than in that last possession,” St. Pat’s Head Coach Bill O’Malley said. “They had time to take the last shot. We were able to defend them well enough they had to throw one up in desperation.”

It was a battle all the way. The Irish led 10-7 at the end of the first quarter on Seth Engler’s basket to close the opening period. St. Pat’s lead grew to six points after Brecken Erickson bounced in a three-pointer to begin the second.

Then Dundy County-Stratton (23-5) came storming back. Derek Noffsinger and Alex Englot scored the next two baskets. Then the 330-pound Noffsinger hit a three to give the Tigers the lead.

Sam Troshynski scored the next bucket to give St. Pat’s the lead back. Englot answered to put DCS back on top. Ethan Latta followed with a basket and then Englot hit a three with 40 seconds left in the first half to give the Tigers a six-point lead.

But on the other end, Troshynski buried a three, and with two seconds left, Will Moats put in Engler’s miss to make it a one-point margin at halftime.

“I thought it was huge that we made a couple of plays at the end of the first half,” O’Malley said. “Even though we were down by one, we had momentum at halftime.”

Jackson Kerchal scored the first basket for Dundy County-Stratton. But then the Irish started a rally.

Andrew Brosius nailed a three. Moats made a free throw to put St. Pat’s on top. Zarek Branch scored to give the Irish a three-point lead.

“We made some offensive plays there,” O’Malley said. “It was hard work because there weren’t many easy shots to be had, with their size and length.”

St. Pat’s led 35-30 at the end of the third. They stretched the lead to nine early in the fourth quarter, after Branch and Erickson scored the next two buckets.

Then Dundy County-Stratton made their move. Englot scored the next five points with a basket and a three.

Moats knocked down a pair of shots from the free throw line to stem the tide. Englot scored again and then Andrew Englot drained a three to make it a one-point game with 1:14 left.

It remained 41-40 until 11 seconds was left when Erickson was fouled. The junior hit both shots from the line to make it a three-point lead. 

The Tigers had a shot to tie but the Irish kept them from getting a clear shot, and got the stop with Andrew Englot’s shot bounced off.

Afterwards, O’Malley looked ahead.

“Obviously, it’s an exciting time,” he said. “The kids will be ready to go. But you’re playing another good, battle-tested team just like Wednesday and today. I think (last year’s experience) has got to help some.”

Erickson said he is pumped for the opportunity to win another state title after helping the Irish win it all last year.

“It feels really good (thinking about) back-to-back,” the junior said with a smile. “I’m ready to get another one.”

In the other semi-final game Friday, Johnson-Brock defeated Maywood, 48-40.

Score by quarters:

Dundy County-Stratton: 7-14-9-10 – 40

St. Pat’s: 10-10-15-8 – 43

Dundy County-Stratton (40)-Andrew Englot 5, Ethan Latta 4, Alex Englot 20, Jackson Kerchal 6, Derek Noffsinger 5.

St. Pat’s (43)-Andrew Brosius 6, Zarek Branch 8, Brecken Erickson 15, Sam Troshynski 7, Will Moats 5, Seth Engler 2.

Free throws: DCS 0-2, SP 11-16; Three-point goals: DCS 6 (Al. Englot 4, An. Englot 1, Noffsinger), SP 4 (Brosius 2, Erickson, Troshynski).

(Photo by James Parrish)

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