KEARNEY — They meet again.
Kearney Catholic and Ogallala, which has developed into a heated rivalry during the last two years, will add another chapter at 10:45 Thursday morning in the state tournament at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln for round two. Or is it round three? Or round four?
Beginning with the 2018 holiday tournament in Amherst, then carrying through the penalty-filled 2019 football game and holiday tournament at KCHS, the Ogallala-KCHS games have been among the more discussed and replayed games in the area. The holiday tournament game at KCHS ended with the Stars on top 53-42.
It was a controversial game with technical fouls, exchanges of words and hard feelings.
“Both programs have kids who are really competitive and really want to win,” Stars coach Bob Langan said. “This time, there’s a lot more on the line so you probably won’t see some of the stuff you might see in a holiday tournament. ... Both teams will be more focused on the goal than some of those other distractions that go on on the court.”
The ultimate reward for maintaining focus will be a victory and a berth in the state tournament semifinals. KCHS has been to the state tournament nine times, most recently in 2017. Ogallala has appeared in the state tournament 24 times, including last year.
This year, the Indians (21-4) come into the tournament the fourth seed. The Stars (18-7) are the fifth seed with five of their losses to state tournament qualifiers.
“They’ve gotten better and I think we’ve gotten better,” Langan said. “They have to be thinking the same thing. They have to think they’re a little bit better.”
Carter Brown, a 6-2 senior guard, leads the Indians, averaging 17.6 points per game. Forwards Adam Kroeger and Kadyn Marhenke also average double figures.
For the Stars, Brett Mahony has been the pacesetter, averaging 16 points per game. Logan O’Brien also is scoring in double figures (10.6) while Kegan Bosshamer and Blake Thiele average 7.6 points per game.
Mahony’s average has slipped in recent games as opposing defenses have been designed to stop the 6-3 sophomore. He scored in single digits in the subdistrict and district finals but had 15 points when the Stars beat the Indians in December.
“I think he’s due for a big game here, but I imagine Ogallala has a different game plan than they did when they played here,” Langan said.
Getting a rematch at the state tournament makes it easier for scouting purposes and gives coaches and players a certain comfort level knowing what to expect. But it’s a two-way street. Ogallala has the same comfort level.
That means it will come down to playing basketball.
“We’re going to have to hit the boards hard ... and limit Carter Brown as much as we can. In the first game he had nine or 11 points right off bat, then we made an adjustment and slowed him down,” Langan said. “Then we have to limit their other guys as well.”
The Stars have only two seniors on the roster and Langan feels they’re still a work in progress.
“Being a young team, we have to come out, play loose and stay in the moment instead of worrying about the big picture,” Langan said.