LOVELAND – Nearly 400 miles separate the high schools of Paonia and Holyoke. But on Friday night, their boys basketball teams couldn’t have come any closer.
Down to the wire – and then some – the Eagles from the Western Slope battled with the Dragons, whose home is roughly 30 miles from the Nebraska state border. It required the first overtime game of the Class 2A state tournament to determine a victor.
And even then, just a single point proved to be the only slight difference, as No. 2 seed Holyoke capped a comeback win, 64-63 (OT), over No. 6 Paonia before the raucous crowd at the Budweiser Events Center.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought that would be what would happen,” Holyoke coach Scott Dille said. “But our kids have done it before (come back late to win), and we did it again here tonight. I’m super proud of the kids.”
The Dragons (21-4) found themselves facing a 14-point deficit late in the game with just more than five minutes to play in the final quarter. And with the way the Eagles (22-3) had been playing most the game, that amount seemed rather daunting.
Paonia had simply out-worked Holyoke on both sides of the court for the first three frames. Slowly, but continuously, adding to their lead, the Eagles appeared to be running away with a win to join their girls team in title game appearances on Saturday.
The Dragons finally stormed back as the game wore late, scoring a 23-11 advantage in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Holyoke stood strong after regulation, and a last-second 3-pointer from Colby Simpson was only enough to cut, not match, its lead.
“I was more disappointed that we didn’t start competing earlier. The way we finished is how we should have been playing the whole time,” Dille said. “I just told them to go out there and start making plays. When it came down to it, they did.”
Holyoke was led by 18 points each from both Austin Herman and Alex Straussx, while Gunnar Kroeger contributed 13. MJ Taylor had nine, which included the game-tying basket in the final seconds of regulation.
Paiona also had 18 points both by Simpson, as well as Triston Mautz. Dagan Reinks contributed a big offensive role with 15 points.
Holyoke will play Sedgwick County for the state championship at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Paiona will face Highland in the third-place game at 1:30 p.m.
(1) Sedgwick County 58, (5) Highland 33
The Cougars started setting out to have their presence felt at the beginning of the season. If there was anybody left who still hadn’t, there certainly aren’t anymore after Friday night.
No. 1 Sedgwick County (24-1) wears that seeding for good reason. The Cougars have posted two emphatic victories in as many days, first knocking off three-time defending champ Sanford in the quarterfinals and following it up with a 25-point blowout over an undefeated Highland squad in the semis. Now, they’re blasting into the title game with something to prove.
“We kind of do,” forward Chad Mikelson said. “We all started chipping in there, scoring together as a team and we’re at our best when we do that.”
Highland (24-1) tried its best to stick around with Sedgwick County, and did so for just past the first half. That’s when the blowout began. The Cougars started going off, tearing through a 32-2 run to end the game on that left the Huskies with no way to respond.
Leading Sedgwick County’s offensive terror was a double-double from Mikelson that included 18 points and 11 rebounds. Michael Nein put up a team-high 19 points, while Cade McKinley added 10.
Koby Anderson finished as Highland’s top scorer with 10 points.
“It’s cool when you see everybody from our community show up,” Mikelson said. “The people in our stands are pretty much all of them we have in our town. It’s great for them to show up and cheer for us the way they do.”