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 By Jeff Motz

Lincoln Southeast may have had the outcome of last year's state championship on their minds, but it never phased them at any point during the season.

After finishing runner-up last season the Knights were poised to keep the gold in Lincoln.

In true Southeast fashion, the Knights came out strong early and held off comebacks in the second and fourth quarters from Bellevue West to earn a 65-57 victory over the Thunderbirds to win the NSAA Class A girls state basketball title Saturday afternoon at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.

Sophomore center and Nebraska verbal commit Jess Shepard put on a spectacular performance for the third straight day, scoring 26 points, grabbing 19 rebounds and blocking five shots to lead Southeast (24-3) to the school's 10th girls basketball title. For the tournament, the 6-3 Shepard scored 81 points.

Shepard helped the Knights to an early 11-2 lead, before taking an 18-9 advantage into the second quarter. Reanne May and Iowa recruit Alexa Kastanek each had layups to extend the Southeast lead to 13, but Bellevue West (27-2) went on a 9-0 run behind six points from Annie Szczepaniak to close the deficit to 25-22 with 1:49 left before halftime. Kastanek hit one of two free-throws, then May hit a three-pointer that gave the Knights a 29-22 halftime lead.

Southeast took off to a 44-31 third quarter lead before Bellevue West stormed back to within five at 56-51 with 1:43 to play. But the Knights got two free-throws from Shepard to keep the Thunderbirds from closing in anymore on the Southeast lead.

Kastanek finished her high school career with 14 points, while May added 13 points for Southeast. Bellevue West got 16 points from 6-1 junior center Kate Liveringhouse and 12 from freshman Chloe Akin-Otiko in the loss.

PHOTO ABOVE: Lincoln Southeast's Jess Shepard goes for two in Saturday's Class A State Championship game vs. Bellevue West.  In the foreground is Reanne May (30) of Lincoln Southeast and Maddie Braun (14) of Bellevue West. (Jeff Motz/
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