The Fort Calhoun boys basketball team topped 15-5 Logan View/Scribner-Snyder on Dec. 30.
Beyond that, the Pioneers struggled to pick up victories against winning teams despite high expectations. They made district finals appearances in each of the past two seasons.
“We dealt with a ton of adversity this year,” coach TJ O'Conner said. “Some of it out of our control. A lot of in our control.”
On Tuesday, though, FCHS (8-14 overall) brought it during the Class C1 Subdistrict 4 Tournament in Arlington. The Pioneers pushed top-seeded Omaha Concordia (19-4) to the limit, nearly pulling off a victory in a 55-49 defeat.
“I told the guys after the game that that's probably as proud of them I've been all year long,” O'Conner said. “We have kids that will fight and compete, and at times this year I think we lost our way with that a little bit.”
Calhoun brought plenty of fight to the Mustangs, though.
“We competed hard tonight,” the coach continued. “Played real hard. Just didn't make enough shots. Didn't make enough plays.”
Trailing 38-22, the Pioneers made their hard charge midway through the third period. Junior Zane Schwarz kicked off a 10-0 scoring run with a made 3-pointer. He then scored in the post before his twin brother Carson logged second-chance points.
Zane's next three points pulled FCHS within 38-32 before a bucket by Concordia stopped the bleeding. The Schwarz brothers weren't done, though, scoring the next six points to close the third period with their team down just two, 40-38.
From there, the Mustangs kept the Pioneers at an arm's length. They led by as many as seven points during the fourth period, but Grayson Bouwman's 3 cut that advantage to just 51-48 with 14.2 seconds remaining. Harrison Schmitt nearly caused a turnover on the ensuing inbound, but Concordia was able to gather it up and put the game away.
The loss ended the Fort Calhoun basketball season.
“I'm very thankful for our seniors,” O'Conner said.
The second-year FCHS coach has known one in particular since the 12th-grader was in fourth grade. O'Conner said Brant Hilzendeger played in pain during the second half of the season, but never complained and led the Pioneers in scoring.
“I think the thing I'll remember most about him, and appreciate the most about him, is just the kind of kid he is,” O'Conner said. “He's a kid you want to have your own kids around.”
The coach's young son often was, sharing the huddle with the Pioneers throughout the season.
“I love these kids,” he said. “When the light bulb completely goes on I think some special things can happen.”
O'Conner's hopeful the Pioneers will have a productive offseason to unleash that potential next winter.