The Sixth Annual Heartland Hoops Classic was full of local talent just waiting to put on a show on such a big stage. The Sutton Mustangs put on a defensive show, brushing off the Grand Island Central Catholic Crusaders 49-23 in the 10:15 AM game of the Classic.
"We're glad to be a part of it," said Sutton Coach Steve Spongberg, "and the topping on the cake, I guess, was a win."
Sutton Junior Cole Wiseman said, "Defense wins tough games and we came out today and played really tough defensively and it helped offensively too."
Raymond Central then took the stage barely beating Hastings St. Cecilia, 47-44, capturing their sixth straight win despite some early season setbacks.
Dale Rasmussen, head coach of Raymond Central, said, "These kids kind of look forward to this all year, getting a chance to play here. We kind of struggled through a lot of injury this year. Three of our starters were out half of the year with injuries and we just got them back about a month ago. So last month, we've been playing pretty good basketball."
Later, it was Doniphan-Trumbull's turn to open some eyes. Doniphan-Trumbull Junior Jordan Slough's game high 17 points lead the Cardinals past Archbishop Bergan, 64-53.
"Coach said 'Don't let it be too in your head about playing in front of a lot of people, just go out, execute, and have fun' and I think we did a pretty good job of that," said Slough.
"We've got to practice every day and make plays like we want to make on the big stage," said Doniphan-Trumbull Head Coach Steve Hartman, "and this was as close as we've come to taking one of our practices to the game floor because we have been really really good in practice lately."
Next was the local headliner between Grand Island Northwest and undefeated Kearney Catholic, but after 32 minutes. The Kearney Catholic Stars were unbeaten no more as the Vikings prevailed, 53-48.
Northwest Head Coach Ryan Rathke said, "I always think there's a little extra incentive when you're playing a really good team and they're undefeated, especially this time of year. So, it's a good challenge for our team and I think our kids met the challenge."
"I knew coming into the game, it'd be a tough tough game and they were going to be a tough opponent," said Northwest Junior Zach Rouzee, "and to come out and actually beat them is a huge win for us."
But the granddaddy of them all was the featured game between Oak Hill Academy and Omaha Central. 6,000 people filled the Heartland Events Center to watch the Eagles of Omaha Central take down the nationally revered Warriors, 70-63.
Eric Behrens, head coach at Omaha Central, said, "This is its own, kind of, entity because it doesn't have any bearing on our ultimate goal of winning the State Championship, but it's certainly a game that -- after we came back from Florida and lost a couple close ones that we circled on our calendar -- that we think we can win this game."
28-year head coach at Oak Hill Academy Steve Smith said, "We were fine, we were fresh, we weren't tired. We have no excuses, we just didn't play well."
Omaha Central Junior Tre'Shawn Thurman said, "It feels great, it feels amazing. We just beat Oak Hill, so there's nothing else to describe it except the smile on my face."