LOVELAND — Nestled along Highway 71 in the southeast corner of the state, the town of Ordway isn't exactly a metropolis.
There’s a firehouse. There’s a country store. A set of railroad tracks.
And then there’s Crowley County. Friday at the Budweiser Events Center, which has a seating capacity that more than triples the entire population of Ordway, No. 1-seeded Chargers showed enough flash to light up the whole Arkansas Valley.
Crowley County topped No. 5-seed Meeker 63-47 in the Final 4, utilizing a quick start and a fourth-quarter burst to down the energetic Cowboys and advance to the Class 2A boys state basketball championship game for the first time in several decades.
The Chargers’ last (and only) boys’ state hoops crown came in 1968. At 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, they’ll be playing to put their tiny town on the map.
“I just got chills thinking about it,” said coach Brett Rusler, who grew up in the Arkansas Valley prep sports scene just a skip away in Swink. “It’s huge for the community. Playing for a state championship is everything that every kid dreams of. I’m just happy for these players.”
Charger senior Bradley Carnes-Clabey scored on a layup just three seconds into the game, setting the pace for an up-tempo first quarter that saw the No. 1 seed take a 23-11 lead in the first eight minutes.
Meeker started the game 0-for-5 shooting from the field but eventually found a rhythm with a 9-0 run in the first five minutes of the second quarter to bring it to 23-20. The Cowboys eventually cut the lead down to two when Doak Mantle hit his third 3-pointer of the first half, and a low-scoring third quarter set the stage for excitement in the fourth.
Leading 46-39 with under six minutes to play, Charger junior Lane Walter took over. Walter hit back-to-back layups within a span of 30 seconds to help push the Charger lead back to double-digits, where it stayed the rest of the way.
Raymundo Suarez led all scorers with 18 points, four of which game on clutch free-throws in the fourth quarter, while Carnes-Clabey finished with 14 and Walter 10.
For the soft-spoken Walter, a trip to the state championship game sounded great -- but there’s still 32 minutes of Charger flash left before the celebrations can begin.
“Everyone is real excited, but we haven’t won nothin’ yet,” Walter said. “This group just sticks together as a team and we overcome a lot. We can play anybody.”
(2) Yuma 58, (3) Byers 54
There must be something in the water out in Yuma, as both the boys and girls basketball teams advanced to their respective Class 2A state championship games.
In a thriller of a nightcap on Friday, the No. 2 seed Yuma boys held on for a 58-54 win over No. 3 Byers to set up a showdown between the top seeds in the tournament for the title. Yuma meets No. 1 Crowley County Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
At 24-2, Yuma has now doubled its win total from the previous two seasons combined, and it has made its first trip to the state tournament since 2013 a memorable one.
Clad in red and white, Yuma was indeed white-hot to start the game, jumping out to a 9-0 lead off the tip and holding an 18-5 advantage after one.
But Byers refused to go away, closing the gap to 24-23 at half and ultimately overcoming a deficit as large as 10 in the fourth quarter to have a chance to tie the game.
Byers’ Austin Davis — who scored a game-high 34 points — hit a 3-pointer, had a steal-and-score, and made another layup in the span of the final minute-plus to give the Bulldogs a chance late.
But Yuma’s Victor Mendoza, who went 8-for-10 from the free throw line in the final quarter and finished with 18 points on the night, helped to seal the deal.