LINCOLN -- For just the second time in 14 trips to the state championship game South Sioux City suffered a loss.
Elkhorn came alive from the field in the second half and converted one free throw after another as the Cardinals dealt with foul trouble to earn the Class B state title 67-60 at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday.
The victory gave Elkhorn its first state title since 1985. South Sioux's only other runner-up finish to go with 12 Class B state titles was in 1999. It also denied the Cardinals back-to-back state championships after taking the title a year ago.
"You always want to win every game that you compete in, but this team and these girls have nothing to hang their heads about," SSC Coach Molly Hornbeck said.
The Cardinals had their largest lead of the game to start the second half at seven points, but it didn't take the Antlers long to erase that deficit. Two free throws by imposing post player Brooke Carlson and back-to-back 3-pointers by Payton Jakopovic cut the SSC lead to 35-34. Carlson, a senior, would convert two more free throws to give Elkhorn (26-3) its first lead since the first half at 36-35.
"We made some halftime adjustments to try to keep the ball out of (Carlson's) hands because she hurt us so bad in the first half," Hornbeck said. "We were able to do that but then the outside shooters started hitting. It is just tough to defend both when you are undersized like that."
Carlson was a perfect 8 of 8 from the floor in the game and 9 of 10 from the free throw line for a game-high 25 points to go with 10 rebounds.
The Antlers would reach the bonus with 1:51 to go in the third quarter and took advantage, building a 48-43 lead with an 8-0 run. Elkhorn was 27 of 33 from the free throw line in the game while SSC went 9 of 13.
"Credit to Elkhorn because they played a phenomenal game, shot well from the line, well from the field, and I don't think Carlson missed," Hornbeck said.
However, SSC showed its championship pedigree as it responded to tie the game at 48-all going to the fourth quarter with Hannah Strom hitting a 3 whileMarybeth Rasmussen connected on a shot near the buzzer.
"I thought we just need to win this (fourth) quarter and we did a really nice job, but we just got called for a couple fouls there and put them on the line," Hornbeck said. "When they are making free throws like they did it is hard to catch up."
The Antlers pulled away in the fourth quarter as they connected on five of their six 3-pointers after halftime.
McKenna Sims led South Sioux with 19 points while Rasmussen had 13 and Kyra Fischer added 10. However both Fischer and Taryn Christensen fouled out of the game and Sims finished with four fouls and the Cardinals' aggressive defense was limited because of it.
"In that third quarter when we had to sit Kyra, Taryn and McKenna for the majority of the third quarter it was just tough to get in the swing of things," Hornbeck said. "You have girls playing with three and four fouls and it is just tough to play that uptempo style we like to play."
South Sioux kept the lead in the first half as it hit seven 3-pointers to just one for the Antlers.
Elkhorn tied the game at 24-all only to see South Sioux close out the half on a 9-2. Christensen had a bucket and converted 1 of 2 free throws before Fischer nailed a 3-pointer to stretch the lead to six. Rasmussen splashed another 3 just before the first half horn off an assist from Sims to give the Cardinals their biggest lead of the first half at 33-26.
Sims led the Cardinals with 10 points at the half as the junior showed a range of her skills. She hit a pair of deep 3-pointers as well as a runner in the lane to go with four assists and two rebounds.
Fischer, who had to leave the game briefly in the first quarter after smacking her chin on the floor after a foul, responded with eight points in the opening half, including a pair of 3s.
The Cardinals could not find an answer for the 6-foot-1 Carlson in the first half as she went 6-for-6 from the floor for 12 points while pulling down five boards.
SSC (23-5) reached the title game despite just one senior on its roster and three players that had significant varsity experience coming into the season.
"They played hard for 32 minutes and did everything they possibly could to win that game," Hornbeck said. "Shots didn't quite fall in our favor in the second half."