Wallace County outlasts Crest, advances to semis
Published on -3/8/2013, 10:13 AM
By NICK McQUEEN
Making the school's first appearance in a boys' state basketball tournament since 2008, Sharon Springs-Wallace County senior Gavin Mote said this Wildcat squad wasn't worried about the past.
The Wildcats knew their school and fans hadn't seen a state tournament win in its previous five tries, but that certainly wasn't a focus as they entered the Class 1A Division II field.
"There was a little bit of talk, but we tried not to worry about it," said Mote, a four-year starter. "We just came here to play. We know our game plan. We just wanted to come here and execute."
The Wildcats didn't execute to their potential, according to their coach, Larry O'Connor, but the Wildcats still posted a 72-62 win against fifth-seeded Colony-Crest in Thursday's first round at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Crest, which had only averaged approximately 49 points per contest, gave the high-octane Wildcats all they could handle. But foul trouble late hurt the Lancers' chances of keeping Wallace County, the No. 6 ranked team in the final coaches' poll, from its first state tourney win.
"Very intense game," O'Connor said. "We didn't play very good ball today, but at this level you get a win, and you move on -- come back to play another day."
The win earned the Wildcats a date with unbeaten and top-ranked Fowler, a 67-50 winner against Cunningham in Thursday's first game. The semifinal matchup is set for 4:45 p.m. today.
"We didn't play our best, but (Crest) is a good team, and (senior Kyle Hammond) is a player," O'Connor said.
Hammond became the focus of the Wildcats' game in the second half Wednesday.
O'Connor didn't really expect Crest to come out and run with the Wildcats like they did. But the two squads exchanged blows through an entire first half, with no squad gaining more than a five-point lead until late.
"Maybe they thought if they didn't run with us, it might get ugly," O'Connor said. "Our press didn't work early, and gave them a little confidence.
"Once that happens, it can be a heck of a game," O'Connor added.
Crest, ranked No. 8, lost one of its starters with a little more than three minutes to go in the first half when junior forward Brock Ellis suffered an apparent knee injury and didn't return. The rebounding edge shifted in the Wildcats' favor from then on.
"It really changed what we were trying to do," Crest coach Travis Hermreck said. "We had a good game plan and other things going. From that point on, I just asked the guys to play on guts. A lot of people are tough out here, but my kids showed a lot of guts tonight."
It wasn't until back-to-back 3-pointers by Wallace County senior Eli Kuhlmann set the Wildcats up with a 39-34 lead, and then junior Callahan Grund hit a pair of free throws with :06 left to extend it. The shots were the result of Hammond's fourth foul. Hammond had come into the game averaging 21 points per contest, so the Wildcats went after him in the second half.
Crest senior guard Jesse Boone also was in foul trouble, with his fourth coming in the third period. He later fouled out.
"We knew (Hammond) had four fouls," Mote said. "If we could get him out of the game, we knew we had a better shot of getting a little more comfortable lead where we could manage it."
Wallace County, though, couldn't get Hammond, a Shrine Bowl football selection for this summer, out of the game. Hammond brought the Lancers back by the end of the third, beginning of the fourth quarter. He scored eight straight points to tie the game at 54.
Hammond lasted until the 3:57 mark, but Wallace County had already built back a six-point lead. From there, the Wildcats pulled away, with more hot shooting from Kuhlman, who was 6-of-6 at the free-throw line. The senior finished 8-of-18 from the floor with five 3-pointers to tie Hammond for the game high with 27 points.
"I don't know if we would have won the game without the foul trouble or not," Hermreck said. "But no one, I mean no one, is more proud of the kids than I am right now."
Mote added 12 points for the Wildcats, including a 6-of-9 effort from the free-throw line. Most of his points came in the first half in a back-and-forth affair.
Senior Jordan Morton, the third Lancer to foul out, scored 13 points.
"The seniors, we've been trying to get them here, and I'm glad we did. It was nice to get this, and hopefully we can come out a little more relaxed (today)," O'Connor said. "I thought we played a little uptight and did some things we don't normally do.
"If we don't, it could get ugly," he added. "Fowler is a good team."