It was a valiant effort by the Cloud County Thunderbirds that went unrewarded.
The T-Birds were seemingly dead in the water when they trailed the 25th-ranked Northeast (Neb.) Community College Hawks 33-11 less than nine minutes into the game.
Cloud County battled its way back into the game, and pulled even at 52-52 with just under seven minutes to play.
Northeast opened up a six-point cushion, but the T-Birds once again charged back.
Trailing by two points in the final seconds, the T-Birds had the ball with an opportunity to tie or take the lead but Linda Pagrode's reverse layup attempt bounced off the rim, and the Hawks escaped with a 66-64 victory Wednesday night in Bryant Gymnasium.
"I was pleased by the fact that we showed some heart, and pride and character in the last 30 minutes of the ballgame; unfortunately we were quite a bit late in getting started," Cloud County coach Brett Erkenbrack said, "As pathetic as we were in the first 10 minutes of the game, we put ourselves in position to win it, and had a couple of breakdowns late that hurt us."
Cloud County (7-6) had no answer for the 11-0 Hawks in the opening 9:38 of the game.
Getting nine points each from Emily Gamble and Lexi Murphy, Northeast raced to the 33-11 advantage.
"We absolutely did not guard anybody. We had no resistance defensively," Erkenbrack said.
Northeast would score just five points over the final 10:22 of the first half.
Sparked by some of its reserves Cloud County was able to cut the deficit to just 14 points, 38-24, by halftime.
Alyssa Steppe came off the bench to hit a three and Kiara McCall went three of four from the free throw line.
"Alyssa Steppe came in and didn't make any mistakes. We got good minutes from Kimi Lindshield again. Tai Nittler kind of got us settled down defensively," Erkenbrack said.
Trailing 42-26 early in the second half, the T-Birds got consecutive three-point baskets by Raneisha Duncan and Agnese Aramina that started a 16-2 run that allowed them to pull within two points, 44-42, when Jordan Alexander scored inside with 12:00 remaining in the game.
Alexander scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds for Cloud County.
Northeast extended the lead back to five points, 52-47.
Courtney Fisher scored inside, Jayna Smith made one of two free throws and Alexander went two of two from the line to tie the game at 52-52.
Two free throws by Megan Trinder and a three by Murphy put the Hawks up by five points once again, 57-52.
Cloud County trailed 61-56 when Duncan buried a three to make it a 61-59 game with 2:43 to play. Duncan finished with 13 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Gamble, who led Northeast with 19 points, was fouled with 2:10 on the clock. She hit the first of two free throws, and missed the second, but the Hawks got the offensive rebounds.
Fouled while driving to the basket, Gamble scored and made the free throw to give Northeast a 65-59 lead.
"We didn't block out on a free throw and that cost us three points," Erkenbrack said.
Jayna Smith made a baseline jumper, the T-Birds got a defensive stop and Fisher made one of two free throws to get Cloud County within three points, 65-62.
A Northeast turnover led to a Fisher layup, and it was 65-64 with 25 seconds left.
Trinder made one of two free throws with 17.5 seconds remaining to put the Hawks up 66-64.
Following a Cloud County timeout, Pagrode drove to the baseline and attempted the reverse layup. It would fall, and Northeast got the rebound.
"Typically in that situation I don't call a timeout. We had been having such a tough time scoring I thought we needed to get something going to the basket. What happened didn't in any way resemble what we were looking for," Erkenbrack said.
Murphy hit two free throws with 1.1 seconds on the clock to make the final margin four points.
Fisher had 15 points and nine rebounds for Cloud County.
The T-Birds were just 23 of 71 from the field for 32 percent and 13 of 21 from the line for 62 percent. They made just 5 of 23 three-point attempts for 22 percent.
Murphy scored 16 points for Northeast.
Yasmin Miller had 13 points for the Hawks and Trinder added 11 points.
Northeast shot 40 percent (21 of 52) from the floor and 82 percent (23 of 28) from the line.
Cloud County hosts the Hastings College junior varsity at 3 p.m. Sunday.