By RANDY GONZALES
Player and coach alike thought they were going to do it. They were going to cap an amazing comeback with a state title, and live to tell their kids and grandkids about it.
“I thought we were going to get it,” said Sharon Springs-Wallace County junior Nate Klinge, who led the Wildcats’ second-half comeback.
“Oh, yeah, I did,” said Wallace County coach Larry O’Connor about pulling off the comeback win. “Once these kids get the mindset, get into the game, I had a feeling we were going to hit a couple shots. We didn’t.”
The Wildcats’ furious rally to start the third quarter and another comeback attempt to start the fourth wasn’t enough in Saturday night’s boys’ championship game of the Class 1A Division II state basketball tournament. Beloit-St. John’s/Tipton barely held on for a 60-58 win.
Wallace County, which trailed by 17 points at halftime, got within 9 points early in the second half.
“When we got 19 down, we just said, ‘We got to go for it, scramble.’ We went to a 1-2-1-1 full-court press, trapping everywhere,” O’Connor said. “Got us back in the game, Just couldn’t finish her off.”
Wallace County even took the lead late in Saturday’s game, but Beloit-St. John’s held off the Wildcats’ charge to claim the school’s first state title at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Beloit-St. John’s (25-1) led 36-19 to start the third quarter, only to have Wallace County (23-3) score 8 straight points to start the second half. The Blujays answered, scoring 8 straight points, and Beloit-St. John’s still led 48-32 entering the final, furious 8 minutes.
Wallace County, fueled by 17 points from Klinge, used a 21-4 run to take a 53-52 lead with 2:55 left in the game. The Wildcats got the ball to Klinge by using a motion offense.
“That’s all I was doing, attacking the basket,” Klinge said. “I was getting good screens from my post, getting there.”
Beloit-St. John’s coach Lance Bergmann said foul trouble by junior point guard Trey Hubbert hurt the Blujays during the Wildcats’ rally.
“When he got his fourth, that’s when the comeback happened,” Bergmann said.
After the Wildcats got the crowd roaring after taking the lead, the Blujays made 5 of 8 free throws to go up, 57-53.
“When we got behind by one, we relaxed and started playing basketball again, was able to finish it out,” Bergmann said.
Klinge buried a 3-pointer from the left wing with 40 seconds left to get the Wildcats within a point.
With the Wildcats applying ferocious pressure in the halfcourt, Blujay sophomore Parker Gates got open underneath the basket. He made the layup and was fouled with 20.8 seconds left. Gates’ ensuing free throw gave Beloit-St. John’s a 60-56 lead.
“That play there at the end by Parker Gates, the way he manned up and finished it, got that and-one, that was huge, because we needed that right there,” Bergmann said.
Senior guard Cayden Daily missed a 10-foot baseline jumper at the other end, and the Wildcats were forced to foul. Even though the Blujays missed both free throws with 13.4 seconds left, the Wildcats missed a 3-pointer then scored on a follow shot at the buzzer for the final margin.
Daily, Wallace County’s leading scorer on the season, had a tough shooting night, hitting 3-of-16 from the floor.
“Cayden was a little off tonight,” O’Connor said. “Things like that happen.”
Wallace County got off to a slow start, trailing 15-10 after the first quarter and by 17 at halftime. O’Connor said the players were remembering making the state title game in football last fall, only to lose.
“I think losing the state football game, we came into this game, we were just thinking about it way too much,” O’Connor said. “The nerves kind of got to us in the first half.”
Saturday’s loss won’t spoil a season to remember, O’Connor said.
“We had a tremendous season,” he said. “Our goal was to get in this game, and give us a chance to be a state champion. We got here, just didn’t finish it.
“It was one of the most rewarding seasons I’ve ever had. These kids have given me everything, every day of practice, every game. It’s just an unbelievable group of kids to coach.”
Dubbert led four Blujays in double figures with 20 points. Klinge scored a game-high 29 points for the Wildcats, who came up just short. He didn’t know what to make of his emotions after the game.
“I just know we about made it.”
Beloit-St. John’s 60, Sharon Springs 58
Sharon Springs (23-3)
Gfeller 0-5 1-2 1, Daily 3-16 1-1 9, L. Schemm 1-1 4-4 6, C. Schemm 2-4 2-4 6, Nate Klinge 10-21 6-7 29, Warner 2-3 0-2 4, Montes 1-1 0-0 3, Grund 0-3 0-0 0. Totals - 19-54 14-20 58
Beloit-St. John’s (25-1)
Chism 0-0 0-0 0, Brummer 1-3 0-0 2, Trey Dubbert 5-7 5-7 20, Connor Eilert 4-6 2-3 10, Luke Eilert 4-7 2-4 10, A. Eilert 2-3 0-0 4, Silsby 0-1 0-0 0, D. Dubbert 1-6 2-4 4, Parker Gates 3-4 4-5 10. Totals - 20-37 15-23 60.
Sharon Springs-Wallace County 10 9 13 26 - 58
Beloit-St. John’s/Tipton 15 21 12 12 - 60
3-point goals - SS 6-17 (Klinge 3-7, Daily 2-6, Montes 1-1, Gfeller 0-3); BSJT - 5-10 (T. Dubbert 5-6, D. Dubbert 0-3, Silsby 0-1). Rebounds - SS 30 (L. Schemm 6); BSJT 32 (D. Dubbert 7). Assists - SS 10 (Grund 3); BSJT 13 (L. Eilert 4). Steals - SS 9 (Klinge 4); BSJT 3 (three with 1). Blocked shots - SS 2 (Klinge 2); BSJT 1 (D. Dubbert). Turnovers - SS 12, BSJT 17.