LOVELAND – For the first time in three seasons, there will be a new Class 2A boys basketball champion.
Sedgwick County knew seeding wouldn’t guarantee anything at the state tournament, especially considering its opening-round matchup on Thursday afternoon at the Budweiser Events Center.
Across the court from the top-seeded Cougars, who have only lost one game this season, still stood a tall order in having to get past back-to-back-to-back reigning champion Sanford. The clash between the two was intense as expected, and in the end Sedgwick County (23-1) did just enough to edge the Indians 40-38 in the final minute.
“It was wild, especially in that atmosphere,” coach Stacy Woodhams said. “They have good fans, we have good fans – it was pretty loud in there.”
After giving up the first two baskets, the Cougars got things going with an early scoring run that provided them a slight lead for the majority of the game. Senior Michael Nein, who finished leading all scorers, was explosive in the first quarter and put up all 14 of his total points before halftime.
The Indians (16-8), however, remained within striking distance the entire time. After trailing by as many as 10 points in the second half, Sanford began to put together its comeback bid.
Aided by Sedgwick County’s late offensive struggles that included 18 total turnovers, eight of which were in the fourth quarter, Sanford started to chip away at its deficit. The Indians finally tied the game at 36-36 with 2:30 left to play and defensively held the Cougars to just four points in the final quarter.
Sanford then took its first lead since the early moments of the game in the ensuing minute thanks to the late performance of senior Casey McDaniel, who finished with a team-high 10 points. Also helping the Indians offensively was senior Derick Faucette’s nine points.
Sedgwick County was able to regain its lead with less than a minute to play to punch its ticket to the Final Four. The No. 1 Cougars will face Highland at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
“They had a little mojo,” Woodhams said of Sanford. “We’re young and we showed it a little bit. … But I was happy. Whenever you get a win this time of year, it’s a good thing.”
Sanford moves to the semifinals of the consolation bracket, where it will play Akron at 1:15 p.m. Friday.
(2) Holyoke 43, (7) Fowler 38
Thursday’s first boys game remained close all the way up until the final minute, when the Dragons prevailed to avoid an opening-round upset.
Holyoke (20-4) came out hot, shooting well from behind the arc to take early control. But Fowler (20-4) was quick to respond in the second and third quarters to remain in contention.
The Dragons were led by MJ Taylor and Austin Herman, who scored 16 and 13 points, respectively. The Grizzlies’ Alex Proctor led all scorers with 17 points.
Friday will mark back-to-back semifinal appearances for Holyoke, which will face No. 6 Paonia at 5:30 p.m. Fowler moves to the consolation semis against No. 3 Del Norte at 10:15 a.m.
(6) Paonia 45, (3) Del Norte 37
A scoreless second quarter put the third-seeded Tigers in a hole they were unable to climb out of, falling victim of an upset by the sixth-seeded Eagles.
Carlos Parra was the leading scorer for Del Norte (20-5), which led 12-4 after the first quarter. His late-game effort included hitting three 3-pointers in the final quarter in attempt to close the Tigers’ gap that fell short. Parra finished with 12 points and teammate Charlie Hayes contributed nine.
Paonia (22-2) was led by an impressive offensive performance from Dagan Rienks, who finished with a game-high 21 points. Triston Mautz also reached double figures with 10 points.
The Eagles move on to the semifinals, where they will face No. Holyoke at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The Tigers will play No. 7 Fowler at 10:15 a.m. Friday in the consolation bracket.
(5) Highland 69, (4) Akron 57
Koby Anderson’s banked-in 3-pointer from just past mid-court to beat the buzzer before halftime was a prime example of the way things would go for the Huskies. Simply, in their favor
Highland (24-0) continued its undefeated roll using a fast-paced offense and stingy defense on the other end of the court. Akron (19-5), after trailing by 11 at halftime, closed the gap in the fourth quarter, getting to within one with six minutes left to play before Highland took back control.
Anderson led the Huskies with 20 points, while Cole Rouse and Reese Anderson added 15 and 10 points, respectively.
The Rams’ late-game push was led by Levi Basler, who scored 13 of his 20 total points in the final quarter. Brock Benson scored 14 points and Jordan Herder had 10.
Highland advances to the semifinals to face top-seeded Sedgwick County at 8:30 p.m. Friday. Akron will play Sanford at 1:15 p.m. in the consolation bracket.