By ERNIE WEBB III

Special to The Hays Daily News

EMPORIA -- Facing defenses designed to stop him, Stockton High School senior Justin Wiltfong struggled to find a groove in the first two rounds of the Class 1A Division I state tournament.

But the 6-foot-5 senior found his rhythm in the third-place game against Hartford on Saturday at White Auditorium, scoring 20 points and grabbing six rebounds as the second-seeded Tigers cruised 61-48 to third place.

"The goal was to get it inside because we knew we had a big height advantage," Wiltfong said. "It wasn't easy to play this quickly after losing in the semifinals, but, as seniors, we wanted to go out with a win. It isn't a state championship, but third feels pretty good."

Wiltfong fueled the decisive run in the first half, scoring 10 points during an 18-4 stretch that opened up a close game. He had a 3-pointer, layup and five free throws as the Tigers (19-7) increased a 17-13 lead to 35-17 in the second quarter.

Hartford made several small runs game to prevent a blowout, but never seriously threatened Stockton.

The Jaguars did close within 56-47 on a 21-11 run spanning the third and four quarters, but the Tigers made several free throws to maintain a comfortable lead.

"Third is not what we wanted, and it's hard to believe the season is over. It went so fast," Wiltfong said. "But we still had a great season. I'm proud of my teammates."

The Tigers raced to an 11-2 lead in the first quarter, as Kale Kuhlmann buried a pair of 3-pointers and Christian Hamel connected from long distance. Stockton led 15-5 when Hartford went on an 8-2 run to pull within four.

The Jaguars (16-10) got no closer than that the rest of the way.

Kuhlmann had 14 points, Jaden Williams 10 points and eight rebounds and Hamel 10 points for Stockton. Isaac Metcalfe led Hartford with 14 points, Clayton Fowler had 13 and Austin Majors 12.

Seven seniors played in their final game for the Tigers: Wiltfong, Williams, Kuhlmann, Hamel, Andrew Bellerive, Cayden Conyac and Casey Deutscher.

STOCKTON 61, HARTFORD 48

Stockton (19-7)

Wiltfong 5-9 9-11 20, Kuhlmann 3-7 5-6 14, J. Williams 2-7 6-8 10, C. Hamel 2-2 4-4 10, Bellerive 0-3 4-4 4, Conyac 1-4 0-0 2, Coffey 0-0 1-2 1, Deutscher 0-1 0-0 0, Hull 0-1 0-0 0, E. Hamel 0-0 0-0 0, Green 0-0 0-0 0, K. Williams 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 13-34 29-35 61.

Hartford (16-10)

Isaa. Metcalfe 6-10 2-3 14, Fowler 6-12 0-2 13, Majors 3-7 6-8 12, Isai. Metcalfe 1-6 0-0 3, Willis 1-3 0-0 3, Esch 1-3 0-1 2, Kemmerer 0-0 1-2 1, B. Darbyshire 0-3 0-0 0, T. Darbyshire 0-1 0-0 0, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, Ledford 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-45 9-16 48.

Stockton 17   20 9 15 -- 61

Hartford 10 13 9 16 -- 48

 3-pointers - Stockton 6-18 (Kuhlmann 3-7, C. Hamel 2-2, Wiltfong 1-3, Conyac 0-2, Bellerive 0-1, J. Williams 0-1, Deutscher 0-1); Hartford 3-16 (Fowler 1-5, Isai. Metcalfe 1-5, Willis 1-2 Esch 0-2, Majors 0-1, B. Darbyshire 0-1). Rebounds - Stockton 35 (J. Williams 8), Hartford 19 (Isaa. Metcalfe 5). Assists - Stockton 10 (Bellerive 4), Hartford 9 (Fowler 3). Steals - Stockton 3 (Bellerive 2), Hartford 9 (Fowler 4). Blocks - Stockton 3 (Wiltfong 3), Hartford 2 (Willis, Majors). Total fouls - Stockton 17, Hartford 27. Fouled out - Isaa. Metcalfe, Fowler.