GRAND ISLAND-The North Platte High School boys' basketball team opened the season on Thursday with a 66-62 victory at Grand Island in the Platte River Classic.
The Bulldogs got off to a dominant start in the first quarter before Grand Island cut the lead to nine right before halftime.
GI came within four early in the second half before NPHS went on another run. The Dawgs expanded their lead past the double digit mark again before the end of the third quarter.
North Platte led as much as 15 early in the fourth. But the Islanders made a furious rally and they pulled to within two points on a three-pointer by Joe Huston late in the game.
That was the closest Grand Island got. NPHS closed the game with Shane Mauch and Kade Erickson making both of their final free throws to hold off GI.
Mauch led the Bulldogs with 20 points, which included five three-pointers.
North Platte will host Omaha Creighton Prep in the championship game of the Platte River Classic on Saturday. The Junior Jays defeated Lincoln Southwest 64-26 on Thursday.
North Platte looks for return trip to state
Last year, the North Platte High School boys' basketball team had its best season in over a decade by qualifying for the state tournament and winning the Greater Nebraska Athletic Conference tournament.
With four of the top six players off that team returning, expectations are as high for the Bulldogs as it has been in quite some time.
"I am excited for the experience that we have," NPHS coach Matt Kaminski said. "We have four players who have a lot of varsity experience. We were fortunate to have the success we did last year in making state and hosting districts. There's some pressure to do it again. With a new schedule with bigger schools and tougher teams, we're looking forward to the challenge."
The Dawgs will be led by 6-foot-7 senior center Drew Callaghan. Last year, Callaghan was not only the team's leading scorer at just over 15 points per game, but he also broke the school record for most rebounds and blocked shots in a season. Kaminski said that he expects more of the same.
Callaghan will be surrounded by a trio of guards in Kade Erickson, Shane Mauch and Bradey Anderson, who all played key roles last year.
Erickson, a 6-foot senior, was the second leading scorer as his deadeye three-point shooting complemented Callaghan well. But with point guard Jack Kenny graduating, Erickson will be playing on the ball more.
"Kade will have a different role this year," Kaminski said. "We're going to need him to handle the point for us. He's an excellent ball handler."
Shane Mauch, the only junior in North Platte's rotation, will be another scoring option for the Bulldogs. Mauch can score in a number of ways and Kaminski is looking for a breakout year from the 6-1 swingman who was the sixth man last year.
"Shane played last year as a sophomore and he made a lot of key plays for us in crucial moments," Kaminski said. "He's a poised player and I am looking forward to seeing him improve more this year."
Bradey Anderson is the other returning starter. Last year, he was the team's best perimeter defender. But Anderson will look to expand his role on the offensive end. He has the ability to make the three pointer like Erickson and Mauch.
Senior Darian Allberry (6-3) should also be in the starting lineup with those four and he will play alongside Callaghan inside.
Seniors Kolby Foote (6-2), Brady Mason (5-8), Alec Wesslund (5-9), Nick Wilkinson (6-0) and Dustin Horton (6-0) will all look for playing time this year.
The total of nine seniors on this year's team is equal to the number of seniors that the Dawgs have had the previous four years.
North Platte will be playing a different schedule. Omaha area teams Omaha Westside, Omaha Bryan, Papillion-LaVista, Papillion-LaVista South and Millard South have been added to the schedule.
Kaminski said that the Bulldogs are glad to be playing more teams from the east.
"It's a challenging schedule but it can only make you better," he said. "If you compete in Class A, you want to play the best."