Tigers are headed to state

Cory Griffith
Posted 2/28/24

The Niobrara County High School Tigers snagged a state berth after defeating Lingle-Fort Laramie in a nailbiter at regionals.

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Tigers are headed to state


PINE BLUFFS – The Niobrara County High School boys basketball team punched their ticket to the 2A State Tournament for the first time in ten years last weekend at the 2A East Regionals in Burns. After falling to Wright in the opening round, the Tigers put together wins over Lingle-Fort Laramie, Big Horn and Pine Bluffs by a combined 11 points to claim third place.

Friday night’s game against the Panthers was tense from the beginning as Aidan Mattheus and Ridge Kupke nailed three pointers for an early 8-4 edge. Kupke buried another minutes later but Wright surged ahead 21-16 after one. Jackson Smith got Lusk within four early in the second period with a trey, but still the Panthers held the lead at the break.

Nathan Miller with an old fashioned three point play and Smith’s long range basket kept NCHS within striking distance throughout the third. Kupke’s trey gave him a hat trick but the Tigers were unable to mount a comeback in the 63-50 defeat.


NCHS 16-11-10-13--50

WHS 20-15-17-11--63


NCHS 14/36 FG; 6/22 3PT; 4/11 FT; 37 REB; 7 AST; 9 STL; 20 TO; 17 PF

WHS 16/43 FG; 7/15 3PT; 10/17 FT; 36 REB; 15 AST; 12 STL; 15 TO; 14 PF

NCHS PLAYER STATS: Scoring- Kupke 11, Smith 10, Mattheus 9, Miller 9, Bruegger 8, Matthews 2, Swisher 1. Rebounds- Bruegger 11, Miller 9, Mattheus 7.

BURNS – Familiar rivals found each other in an elimination game Friday morning as the Tigers and Doggers combined for 14 turnovers in the first period. Lusk held a slim 8-7 advantage in the scoring column however. Bruegger and Miller both buried triples but the game was knotted at 20 at halftime.

The turnover situation settled down for both squads with NCHS taking a three point lead. Foul trouble (or lack thereof, depending on perspective) had the packed gym on edge in the final minutes. Bruegger’s trey opened up an eight point lead, but defensive lapses kept LFL in the game. Despite missed free throws down the stretch and a last second near miss, the Tigers prevailed 42-41.


LFLHS 7-13-8-13--41

NCHS 8-12-11-11--42


LFLHS 17/32 FG; 1/13 3PT; 4/7 FT; 28 REB; 11 AST; 5 STL; 20 TO; 15 PF

NCHS 11/30 FG; 3/13 3PT; 11/14 FT; 27 REB; 6 AST; 12 STL; 18 TO; 16 PF

NCHS PLAYER STATS: Scoring- Bruegger 21, Miller 7, Smith 6, Mattheus 4, Bieri 4. Rebounds- Bruegger 8, Mattheus 5.

During the 2A East Smackdown, NCHS used 15 treys to knock off Big Horn but Saturday morning’s stakes were much higher. Bruegger and Kupke hit treys yet the Rams were not about to concede in a tied first quarter. BH went ahead before Mattheus splashed a pair of late three pointers- the second one a 25 foot bomb at the buzzer, sending NCHS into the locker room with a 30-25 lead.

Neither team had much success finding consistent scoring as foul trouble began to be a concern for Lusk. Smith hit from long distance for a seven point lead, but the Rams answered to stick around. In the final minutes, NCHS got a pair of critical free throws from Corbin Matthews and had a 48-45 lead with just a couple ticks remaining. The Rams desperation heave wasn’t enough as Tiger fans erupted with cheers and tears of joy- the streak had ended.


NCHS 12-18-8-10--48

BHHS 12-13-12-8--45


NCHS 12/34 FG; 5/17 3PT; 9/22 FT; 38 REB; 17 AST; 4 STL; 15 TO; 26 PF

BHHS 15/40 FG; 0/4 3PT; 15/27 FT; 33 REB; 6 AST; 5 STL; 15 TO; 21 PF

NCHS PLAYER STATS: Scoring- Mattheus 14, Miller 10, Bruegger 9, Smith 8, Kupke 3, Matthews 2, Bieri 2. Rebounds- Mattheus 9, Miller 9, Bruegger 6. Assists- Mattheus 5, Kupke 5.

With a spot in their last 2A State Tournament secured, Lusk faced Pine Bluffs for the third place trophy Saturday evening. Mattheus sank a triple, with Matthews adding two of them but Lusk’s lead was still a slim four points after one. Bruegger found his stroke from the stripe and NCHS went into half up by six.

He buried another minutes into the third quarter and the Tigers were able to extend the lead by one more after three. Smith’s layup and free toss was followed by Mattheus’ trey but the defending state champs refused to let up. After Bruegger’s fifth foul, emotions were running hot on both sides, but NCHS held on for the 54-47 win and third place finish.


PBHS 13-9-10-15--47

NCHS 17-11-11-15--54


PBHS 14/25 FG; 4/18 3PT; 7/11 FT; 21 REB; 5 AST; 5 STL; 15 TO; 18 PF

NCHS 11/20 FG; 6/18 3PT; 14/23 FT, 26 REB; 8 AST; 5 STL; 16 TO; 17 PF

NCHS PLAYER STATS: Scoring Mattheus 18, Bruegger 12, Smith 9, Matthews 8, Bieri 1. Rebounds- Mattheus 7, Miller 6.

Monday afternoon, NCHS was abuzz with excitement as head Coach Ed Fullmer noted the building was full of smiles and hi-fives.

“It just goes to show how much high school sports means in a small town, and the community support is awesome,” said Fullmer. “And just like us there on the edge of our seats, all the others out there that listen and watch the support is fantastic.”

Seniors Bruegger and Mattheus had a few minutes before practice and were excited- yet carrying a calmness like they’ve been there before.

“Yeah we beat Greybull earlier, but I’m sure they’ve improved,” said Bruegger. “We just need to take one game at a time and worry about Greybull first.”

Mattheus added, “It’s been the goal since day one to get here, and now we’re here. I’m excited and think we’re ready.” 

The Tigers open state against the Buffaloes Thursday night (7:30 p.m.) at Swede Erickson Gymnasium at Casper College. All tournament brackets and ticket prices are available at whsaa.org.