Thunderbirds too much for the Wildcats

Millard West competes in one of the most highly anticipated Omaha Metro Tournaments


Photo by David Rochford

Senior Dustin Hatch driving past sophomore Brock Murtaugh of Millard South in the opening round of the metro tournament. Hatch had 14 total rebounds and 10 total points throughout the tournament. “As long as we play to our true potential and continue to improve every practice, I know we can be a playoff team,” Hatch said. “My goal going into the season was to play in Lincoln, and I believe we have a shot at performing well in the state tournament. If things go right and we play perfect, winning a championship is a possibility.”

Jonathan Willis, Striv Executive Producer

Over Winter Break, the varsity basketball team participated in the annual Metro Holiday Tournament. Eighteen teams competed in a series of games that gave fans around the Omaha area an idea of who is at the top of the pack right now. 

Millard West went into the tournament ranked seventh which granted them the privilege to host the first round game against 10th-ranked Q Street rival Millard South. The Wildcats won four out of the five games they played in, only losing to third ranked Creighton Prep. Millard South came into the matchup with a 2-3 record, two of those losses being against Top 10 teams. 

The game between the Patriots and the Wildcats was very close and defensive. Millard South controlled the pace in the first half and led most of the time. In the third quarter, both teams were going neck and neck with no one seeming to gain an advantage. In the fourth, Millard West was able to pull away due to some big foul shots, which they shot a total of 17 in the fourth quarter. South only scored a total of six points in the period, which helped Millard West end up winning the game 54-44. 

“Even though the game was close and we were trailing most of the first half, my teammates and I knew we were the better, more conditioned team,” senior Dustin Hatch said. “The key for us was to keep plugging away and continue to play with confidence, trust yourself, trust your teammates and we knew we would come out on top.” 

Senior Evan Meyersick led the team with 13 points with senior Dominic Humm adding 12 points as well. For the Patriots, senior Jack Cooper and junior Gage Stenger both scored 11 points. 

The Wildcats then moved on to play the undefeated defending state champions Bellevue West. The Thunderbirds got the second seed in the tournament and was highly favored to face off with Millard North in the Metro Tournament championship. 

The first half of this game was also extremely close. Millard West played great defense and forced the Thunderbirds to miss a total of 18 threes in the game. The Wildcats were able to box out and get rebounds which had been their key to success in earlier games. Millard West outrebounded Bellevue West 40-25. The Cats had the game tied 24-24 and was toe to toe with one of the best teams in the state. Bellevue West came out of the break looking like their usual selves, forced some turnovers and got some big buckets to pull away. They outscored the Wildcats by 13 in the second half and ended up winning the game 69-56 and moved onto the semifinals. 

“We were doing really well with our transition defense and offensive rebounding and I think that was what really helped us in the first half,” senior Ryan Larsen said. “Even though we lost, it proved that we can hang with the best of the best.”

Meyersick again led the team in scoring with 12 points and senior James Conway also had 10 points. For the Thunderbirds, senior Frankie Fidler led the team in scoring with 25 points. 

“We had only one practice in the seven days prior to this game, and the guys came ready to play,” head coach Will Morrison said. “We just need to be consistent for the whole 32 minutes to beat a top team like that.”

Bellevue West ended up beating the Omaha Central Eagles in the semifinals which set up a highly anticipated matchup with first ranked Millard North in a rematch of last year’s state championship. The game was even better than people thought it would be with Millard North winning in a double overtime thriller. Senior Saint Thomas of the Mustangs broke the Millard North school record for points in a game with 48. Millard North ended up winning the metro championship in a game that many are expecting to see again come state tournament time. 

On the Millard West side, they dropped to a 6-2 record after the loss to Bellevue West. Even with the loss, the Wildcats are feeling very good about where they are as a team and are ready to keep improving as the season goes on. 

“Our shot selection has been very good all year,” Morrison said.  “We also have shared and rebounded the ball very well all season. Playing Bellevue West showed that we need to be able to handle pressure better. We also need to be able to guard the best guards and prevent them from getting into the lane. If we can do that, our chance of qualifying for the state tournament increases. I think we have a good chance this year.” 

This year’s Metro Tournament lived up to the hype and more. Now, teams look to the future as they continue their journey through the regular season and try to punch their ticket to  Lincoln in March.