For the first 31 minutes of Friday's game against Lincoln North Star, Kade Erickson couldn't buy a point.But with no time left on the clock, the senior guard made the game-winning free throws for North Platte in its 57-56 victory over the Navigators at the Dawg House.
"I'd never been so nervous in my life," Erickson said. "I just knew I had to put them in. It was my spot and I stepped up."
Before Erickson's heroics, NPHS (2-3) was down 28-23 at halftime to North Star. Drew Callaghan, who had a game-high 29 points, carried the offense for the Bulldogs with very little help.
But in the second half, the Dawgs continued to play good defense and that allowed them to have a 40-37 lead going into the fourth quarter.
"On defense, we did what we needed to do," North Platte coach Matt Kaminski said. "We played a mix of man and zone to keep them off-balance. The big key was holding their leading scorer, Connor Musiel, to only five points. Drew did a good job on him and bothered him."
In the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs finally started to achieve a little balance to go along with Callaghan's dominance. With five minutes left, they took a 47-41 lead when Shane Mauch made a layup that followed a basket by Bradey Anderson.
"They started putting a couple of guys on me and my teammates did a good job stepping up," Callaghan said. "We did a good job of talking. Shane kept cutting to the basket for layups and then Kade made the big free throws."
But North Star (3-2) got timely baskets from Logan Broeker and Triston Simpson to stay within striking distance toward the end.
With 33 seconds left and the Bulldogs holding a 54-52 lead, a scoreless Erickson went to the line. He missed the first of two foul shots but he got the second one to go to extend the lead to three.
On the other end, Broeker got a layup to make it one with 20 seconds to go. Then as NPHS brought the ball up against the Navigator half-court trap, Callaghan's heel landed out of bounds on the left side after jumping to catch a pass from Mauch, giving the ball back to North Star.
Simpson then drove in from the top of the key and laid it in with just over five seconds left to give the Gators its first lead of the fourth quarter.
After a timeout, Erickson brought the ball up down the right side of the court and he went up for the desperation three from about 25 feet. Connor Musiel went up with him and he stuffed Erickson. But Musiel was whistled for a foul after the buzzer sounded and Erickson had three free throws to tie or win the game.
He bricked the first free throw. But he calmly nailed the next one to ensure that the Bulldogs would not lose at that point. Then he drilled the third in similar fashion to win the game.
"(On the first one), I let it go and right away, I knew it was hard," Erickson said. "But I knew what I had to do differently. I was still confident and I felt I had the ability to make the next two and that's what I did."
Erickson, who was the second leading scorer on last year's state tournament team, had struggled mightily not only on Friday but throughout the season. But Kaminski feels that pulling through in such a big situation might be what the doctor ordered not just for Erickson, but also for the Dawgs.
"They were pretty big," Kaminski said. "I am glad Kade made them because he was struggling so much. I think this is going to build his confidence for himself and the team moving forward. He is one of those guys you want to have when you're under pressure."
Lincoln North Star 12 16 9 19 - 56
North Platte 12 11 17 17 - 57
Lincoln North Star (56)-Devonte Holt 4, Devon Thompson 2, Brook Bolles 9, Connor Musiel 5, Logan Broeker 14, Logan Cale 7, Triston Simpson 15
North Platte (57)-Brady Mason 2, Shane Mauch 17, Bradey Anderson 6, Kade Erickson 3, Drew Callaghan 29
Free Throws: LNS 10-12, NP 14-18; Three Point Goals: LNS 3 (Broeker 2, Cale), NP 1 (Mauch)