MURDOCK, Neb. - A season ago, Elmwood-Murdock was the top seed and the team to beat heading into the state tournament before stumbling in the opening round to Cedar Catholic. 

This season head coach Paul Dwyer might not have his best team, but he does have a bunch of winners that love to play defense. This was the case in Elmwood-Murdock's 54-29 district championship victory over Sterling Friday night in front of standing room only crowd at home as it returns to the state tournament.

The Knight's (21-5) didn't clear the Jets for takeoff holding them to zero made field goals for the first 18 minutes and 15 seconds of game time. Sterling's first made basket came at the 5:45 mark in the third quarter when its leading scorer Macy Richardson finally sent a shot through the net. 

But by that time EM had already built a big enough lead to begin thinking about next week's state tournament. 

The Knight's started out to an 18-5 lead after Brooklyn Mans swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Then teammate Jordan Vogler--despite foul trouble--scored underneath to make it 20-5 and capping a 9-0 Knight's run midway through the second quarter.

It was a 6-0 run for EM to start the second half with Tatum Backemeyer leaking out ahead of the defense twice in a row for layups forcing a Sterling timeout. The junior Backemeyer was unstoppable in the second half, racking up seven made fields goals and trio of free throws for 18 points. She finished with a game-high 22. 

Life was tough offensively for Richardson and the Jets. The senior finished with 9 hard earned points--11 below her season average. Fellow senior Katy Boldt hit three consecutive 3-pointers in the fourth after she couldn't get one to fall early. 

The rest of the second half consisted of the Knight's playing keep away and running out the clock on the Jet's season. It was only the second loss this season for Sterling by more than six points.

Sterling (17-7) got open shots through its offensive sets, but EM was always there to contest closely, forcing an infinite number of in-and-out misses. The Jets are missing the state tournament for the first time since 2018. 

The official bracket and matchups are yet to be released for the state tournament which begins Wednesday, March 1, but EM has a team capable of making a run when it defends the way it did Friday night. 

Box Score: 

Sterling (17-7): 5, 2, 9, 13 - 29

Elmwood-Murdock (21-5): 11, 14, 13, 16 - 54

Othe district final results:

C1-3: No. 3 Adams Central 71, No. 14 Syracuse 54, C1-6: No. 6 Malcom 44, No. 11 Platteview 33, D1-7: No. 7 Johnson-Brock 48, No. 10 BDS 38, D2-1: No. 1 Falls City Sacred Heart 58, No. 16 Osceola 32