On to State

Millard West punches its ticket to Lincoln with a one point victory over Westside


Photo by David Rochford

Millard West celebrates after their 55-54 win over Westside. They play Lincoln Pius X in the state tournament on March 9. “It felt like I was on cloud nine for the night,” junior Chase Hultman said. “Celebrating with all of the guys and our friends in the student section was a lot of fun and knowing that we would get a chance to play in Lincoln is really cool, but we still have to approach it as any other game so that we can keep playing in Lincoln instead of being one and done.”

Jonathan Willis, Striv Executive Producer

It was win or go home for the varsity basketball team on March 1, matching up against the Westside Warriors in the Class A-7 District Finals at the Coliseum. Millard West was coming off of a dominant 52-34 win over Omaha North in the first round of Districts, with Westside also taking down Benson easily in a 70-48 victory. 

These two teams met earlier this year, and it resulted in a 59-38 Westside win. Now without Millard West senior Evan Meyersick playing in this second matchup, Westside was heavily favored. 

We told our guys that we didn’t need a hero,” head coach William Morrison said. “We needed everyone to get one more basket and that everyone needed to get one more rebound and one more loose ball, etc.”

The first quarter was one full of runs for both teams. Westside went up 5-0 early behind a three from junior Reggie Thomas and a tough shot in the paint from junior Logan Wilson. Millard West answered right back scoring 10 straight points to give them momentum. Senior James Conway got the scoring started for the Cats with a tough layup off the backboard and senior Dustin Hatch added to the lead with a jumper in the corner. Senior Dominic Humm sank a corner three and Conway put in another layup to give Millard West the lead. Westside went on a 8-0 run, started by a corner three by junior Payson Gillespie. Thomas hit another three and Gillespie hit a buzzer beating floater to give the Warriors a 13-10 advantage at the end of the first quarter. 

The second quarter featured a lot of high flying back and forth offense. A total of 36 points was scored in the period. Conway continued to play strong, scoring five straight points, one of them being a tough foul and one shot in the paint. Westside answered right back with another three from red hot Gillespie. Junior Trace Thaden made a hook shot in the paint to cut the lead to two, but Gillespie once again made a long three pointer for the Warriors. A quick layup by junior Chase Hultman gave Millard West some momentum back. The threes were really hurting the Cats in the first half, as Thomas sank another one as Westside was trying to pull away in the second. They were up by seven after a layup from sophomore Tate Odvody, and the Wildcats needed an answer. Senior Ryan Larsen was able to give them the answer they needed with a corner three to kick off a 9-3 Wildcat run to end the half. Conway still dominated in the paint, scoring four straight points, but Thomas knocked down a long three just past the logo to keep Westside up 30-29 at the break. 

We needed to do a better job of getting out onto their shooters because that was what was hurting us the most in the first half,” Hultman said. “We also did a better job of composing ourselves instead of tensing up like I think we did in our first matchup. Some of our coaches already knew that we had to win to make it to State because of some of the other upsets at halftime. ”

Larsen immediately got the Cats going in the second half with another three pointer to give them the lead. Thomas once again had an answer with a tough shot off the glass to tie it up. Both teams then started to go a little cold from the field, until Humm drove into the paint and got a bank shot off the backboard. The Warriors were right back with an answer with another corner three, this time from Wilson. Throughout the game, Westside was great from beyond the arc, sinking 10 total threes and shooting 48% from downtown. The teams once again struggled offensively for a few minutes, both of them committing some rare turnovers. Hatch finally ended the scoring drought, scoring seven straight points for the Wildcats, including a three and two jumpers in the paint, and suddenly Millard West had a six point advantage which would be their largest of the game. Gillespie made yet another three and Thomas got a shot in the paint along with a free throw to tie the game up 41-41 headed into the final eight minutes of the ball game. 

We knew that there was going to be a point in the game that Westside was going to make a run, we just made sure to stay composed and confident,” Humm said. “That was the whole thing. Never getting too high when we made a big shot, and never getting too low when Westside made a big shot.” 

The fourth quarter could not have been more exciting. Each team went punch for punch offensively with players on both sides stepping up and making big shots. Junior Chandler Meeks, who has been the best player for Westside as of late, had struggled in the game up to this point, but finally got going scoring the first points of the fourth quarter with a fadeaway jumper to put the Warriors up 43-41. Thomas continued to shoot well with another corner three that made the gym explode with noise. Larsen was able to answer right back, with another clutch fourth quarter three to tie the game up. Odvody was able to get two points at the line, but Humm hit a deep three pointer to give the Wildcats a one point lead with 3:36 left in the game. Thomas got his 23rd point of the night with another tough layup as these two offensives continued to go toe for toe. Humm once again continued his clutch fourth quarter with a shot off the glass, and Millard West took a one point lead. Meeks answered back with a tough floater which forced Coach Morrison to use a timeout with 1:07 left to go. 

“We talked about controlling emotions, keeping a ‘next play’ mentality and not to worry about refs, calls, or the other team,” Morrison said. “Emotions are a tricky thing. You need them to play hard, but if they go overboard, they actually get fatigued and do not think clearly.”

With time ticking down, and a trip to the state tournament on the line, the Wildcats needed a bucket. They got it off of a tough shot from Hultman which then put all the pressure on the Warriors. Westside had two opportunities from Meeks and Thomas, but missed both, and with just 14 seconds left they were forced to foul and send Humm to the line. By that point, the Wildcats just needed to sink these free throws. Humm went 2-3 in his two appearances and gave Westside a shot to win it, only being up by one. Gillespie missed a tough three pointer though as time expired. Millard West won the game 55-54. The student section for West rushed the court and the Wildcats got to celebrate their first state tournament appearance since 2016. 

Due to Omaha Central being upset by Papio South, Westside could not make it to the State Tournament and their season ended. They finished 17-7. For West, they had three players with over ten points, Humm having 15, Conway having 14 and Hatch scoring 11. Conway finished with a double double, also grabbing 12 rebounds on the night. 

We all support each other, and we all want each other to succeed,” Humm said. “There’s no jealousy or animosity in our group. We all just want to win the state championship as a team. It was a dream come true making it to State. I always remember watching my older siblings and family friends playing at the State Tournament, and I always wanted to get there.”

The Wildcats will now play against Lincoln Pius X in the first round of the State Tournament on Tuesday at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Thunderbolts are 18-3 on the year, and it will be a tough matchup. Meyersick is set to return for the Wildcats which could be a huge key to the game. The game will be available to watch at 4 p.m. live on the NFHS Network.