When Kyle Pelan scored the game’s first basket, at least half of the crowd in the Omaha Skutt gym got goose bumps and the rest applauded.
When Elkhorn Mount Michael pulled out the 48-44 win over the Top 10 No. 7 SkyHawks, everyone stood up — and maybe got choked up, too, watching the sophomore accept hugs from the Skutt team that stayed at midcourt for a joint prayer with Pelan and his teammates.
Pelan lost his father, Mark, unexpectedly Wednesday. Mark Pelan was a 1989 Omaha Burke graduate, a swimmer, whose engagement story to Katie Crouchley was told by The World-Herald five years ago. He was 47.
“The Pelans were the type of people who changed lives,” Mount Michael coach Derrik Spooner said. “The world needs more Mark Pelans and the more people like Mark, the better this world would be.
“Kyle has more character in his body than anyone I’ve ever met. I told him yesterday to do what is best for him, whether take a month, a week or a day. He called me today and said he wanted to be where his dad wanted him to be. He wanted to be with his teammates and the guys just love him.”
One of the Knights’ five sophomore starters, Kyle scored on Mount Michael’s third putback try on the opening possession. It was his only bucket of the game.
“I’m telling you, it was like a movie. It was storybook,” Spooner said. “K.P. does everything the right way and the way he lives his life is the right way. For that game to start that way is the right way to start.”
While the loss keeps Skutt (13-3) from defending its River Cities Conference tournament title — Class B No. 8 Mount Michael (11-4) will visit No. 6 Omaha Roncalli (12-2) on Saturday in the final — SkyHawk coach Kyle Jurgens kept it in perspective. He said it was his captains who proposed to Mount Michael’s before the game that the teams stay on the court to pray for Kyle.
“I thought that was cool leadership on both sides,” Jurgens said. “It’s hard to really talk basketball on a night like tonight. Our hearts go out to their family and their community. That’s what we talked about after the game, that there’s more to life after basketball.
“I’m really proud of them and how they conducted themselves than anything of the basketball stuff.”
After the initial emotional boost, Mount Michael nearly got knocked out in the first half. It went scoreless for the final 6:55 of the second quarter as Skutt scored the next 12 points for a 25-15 halftime lead. The drought lasted for eight minutes before Airan Lopez made the first of his four second-half 3s.
Trailing 38-30 after three, Mount Michael went on an 10-1 run — Lopez hit two more 3s — to lead 40-39 on a Kaleb Brink basket with 3 ½ minutes left. Brad Bennett followed with a 3. When Brink made two free throws with eight seconds left, the Knights had a two-possession lead and it returned to two after Joseph Chouinard, with 2.4 seconds left, matched the two free throws by Skutt’s Tyson Gordon.
Gordon gave Pelan the longest hug.
“I told the guys this was a game where you’re going to let it rip,” Spooner said. “Whatever happens, happens, and let’s be thankful we even get to play this beautiful game and the opportunity that we even get to come out there is enough for our team.
“When K.P. showed it up, it’s so moving. So powerful. There was something in the gym tonight, I’ll say that. I felt something.”
Elkhorn Mount Michael (11-4)………..11 4 15 18—48
At Omaha Skutt (13-3)………………..13 12 13 6—44
EMM: Kyle Pelan 2, Airan Lopez 15, Joseph Chouinard 13, Brad Bennett 10, Kaleb Brink 6, Drew Thornton 1, Parker Hottovy 1.
OS: Tyson Gordon 17, Jake Kudron 6, Ryan McCormick 6, Grant Bertucci 6, Andrew Merfeld 5, Luke Skar 2.