by Eric Taylor
In the Game Sports Editor
The long wait is over.
For the first time in 19 years of River Cities Conference match-ups with South Sioux City, the Gross girls basketball team finally has bragging rights.
Friday night's 60-57 victory over the Cardinals was the first for the Cougars over their River Cities Conference foe. It's a streak that has spanned nearly 30 contests since SSC joined the RCC in 1994.
"The girls were thrilled," Cougar coach Fr. Steve Emanuel said. "This was a win for a lot of people. We got texts from former players who were thanking us for finally getting them."
No. 10 Gross (15-6) had lost twice to the No. 9 Cardinals (13-7) already this season and Emanuel was concerned the mental block might be the biggest hurdle for his team to clear. But a solid start in which they led 12-10 after the first quarter put some of those concerns to rest.
"I think they got a sense of confidence," Emanuel said. "Even when we got down in the third quarter, you still sensed it.
"When we got down seven, I called a timeout and told them that was their run and now we make ours."
Gross closed the gap to three by the end of the quarter, then scored the first four points of the fourth to take the lead. In a game that featured 12 lead changes and 10 ties, it was the Cougars who made the plays down the stretch.
Clinging to a 59-53 lead with 30 seconds left, Gross saw the Cardinals convert a four-point play to trim the lead to two with 10 seconds left. Joelle Overkamp hit a free throw to boost the lead to three and SSC was unable to get a shot off in its final possession, losing the ball out of bounds with .5 seconds left.
Overkamp led a balanced Gross scoring attack with 16 points. Julie Olechoski added 15, Alex Opperman 12 and Kayla Johnk nine.
The win also clinched the second seed in the B-1 District Tournament for the Cougars, giving them a first-round bye.
With two games left in the regular season, Emanuel believes his team won't rest on the laurels of its landmark victory.
"They were excited after the game, but it was more like they felt they were capable of doing this," Emanuel said. "I thought that was pretty cool to see because this was a signature win and a tough step to take."
Gross pummeled Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson 56-20 earlier in the week.
Lynsey Matulka paced the Cougars with 11 points while Opperman and Overkamp each finished with nine.
Published in In The Game in the February 6, 2013 issue of the Bellevue Leader.