Air Academy boys basketball claims first crown since 1989

(Kevin Keyser/KeyserImages.com)

Air Academy won the 4A boys basketball championship on Saturday. More photos. (Kevin Keyser/KeyserImages.com)

BOULDER — While this group of Kadets hadn’t reached the Coors Events Center for the Final 4 in hoops, they don’t lack for championship experience.

First cousins James Sims, Austin Dewing, and David Louthan, along with  Henry Yocum and Mark Beatty, capped off a perfect 20-0 season with the Class 4A soccer state championship in the fall. The core got their chance to add to their sports legacy with a basketball crown and delivered by beating previously undefeated Longmont 64-59 to claim the 4A boys basketball crown in a sensational overtime battle.

Air Academy (24-4), a No. 2 seed, jumped out to a rather shocking 26-8 early lead as they broke Longmont’s vaunted trapping zone defense with layup after layup. The Kadets shot an incredible 11-for-12 from the field in the first half and took a 30-20 lead into the break.

Then, things got out of control wild as Longmont (27-1) tied the game at 34 late in the third as Blake O’Grady scored 8 points in the frame. The Kadets and Trojans went back and forth the rest of the way, but Air Academy’s grit, composure and will to win allowed them to sneak past the No. 1 ranked team in the state.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt when David Louthan goes 7-for-8 from the charity stripe in the final minute of regulation and into overtime.

“At the end of the game the ball always goes to David,” Air Academy coach Barry Clark said. “We know that he’ll make the right decisions. He knows how to win and that’s really our play. Give David the ball and we roll with it. We put a lot of pressure on that kid and it doesn’t bug him at all. He’s amazing.”

“I was thinking about my release, staying relaxed, and focusing on anything but the fact this is the state championship,” Louthan said of how he stayed composed at the line.

Longmont Air Academy boys basketball

More photos. (Kai Casey/CHSAANow.com)

Louthan finished 9-for-12 from the line, scored 21 points, went 5-of-6 from the field, and had six assists and five rebounds. He wasn’t alone in timely baskets as the entire team played together and for one another as Paul Ambuul scored 19 points, going 7-for-7 from the line, and James Sims chipped in 13.

“Each and every guy made a huge contribution,” Louthan said. “It was a team effort.”

Air Academy finished 20-for-28 from the field and 21-31 from the line. Longmont shot 20-for-50 and 5-for-17 from three. They only made 14-of-23 freebies, as O’Grady went 5-of-11 with several critical misses. In a game with so many twists and turns, Air Academy’s poise in a state championship setting proved to be the difference.

“Most of us had already played in two state championships,” Louthan said of losing in the soccer finals two seasons ago and winning last fall. “I think it helped us stay more composed. We were used to the pressure.”

The trust in one another was evident for the Kadets, as well.

“If I were to look at it, if you get a core group to believe in each other and you might not win the state championship, but if they fight for each other, they are going to be successful,” Clark raved. “This game is not for me. It’s for those guys playing for each other.”

Air Academy won their second state championship in boys basketball, their first since 1989 when they defeated Greeley West in the second largest classification at the time, class 3A.

Justinian Jessup, a talented lanky guard who should be in the mix for 4A player of the year honors, hit a couple enormous three-pointers late to give the Trojans life. He scored 16 points before fouling out in the final minute of regulation.

Kevin Mitchell added 17 points and O’Grady had 11 for Longmont in defeat. Longmont was playing in their first state finals since 1997 when they lost to Columbine in 5A. The Trojans last won it all in 1942. They do return nine juniors, including Jessup, so Longmont could be the preseason No. 1-ranked team.