LONGMONT -- Brett Sterkel said the Longmont boys basketball team's energy was "horrible" in a road loss to Greeley Central on Tuesday, the Trojans' first setback of the season.
For the opening seven minutes against rival Niwot on Friday night, the Trojans looked like they could use a wake-up call again.
Luckily for the Trojans, Sterkel was there to spark them to life every time it looked like they might fade away.
The junior guard, whose previous career high was nine points, poured in 22 points, including six 3-pointers to key a 50-46 victory over the Cougars at LHS.
More than his hot hand, it was the clutch moments at which Sterkel ripped the nets. Six of his eight field goals gave Longmont (6-1, 1-1 Northern League) the lead in the back-and-forth affair, and another of his shots tied the game at 25 at the halftime buzzer.
"It's nice," Sterkel said. "I thank all my coaches and teammates to give me the chance to do that."
All of Sterkel's points came in the first three quarters, as Niwot blanketed him with defenders in the fourth. But he kept the Trojans -- whose usual top two scorers, Marcus Johnson and Austin Kemp, were hampered by foul trouble early -- in the game long enough for his teammates to come through with some tough defense and clutch buckets in the final frame.
Three times in the third quarter, Sterkel broke ties with baskets, including two 3-pointers.
"Sterkel kept us in the ballgame," Longmont coach Jeff Kloster said. "He was the difference in the ballgame throughout."
With Sterkel hounded in the fourth, it was Johnson who gave the Trojans the lead for good on a post-up with 4:10 to play. He capped his 13-point, nine-rebound night with another bucket on the next possession to give LHS a 43-40 edge that reached 47-40 before Niwot finally scored again with 47 seconds to go.
Longmont's 1-3-1 defense in the second half slowed the Cougars and caused seven NHS turnovers in the fourth quarter.
"The good thing is we got a W," said Kloster, whose team plays at noon Saturday at Denver South. "Even though it was an ugly W, we're going to take it and we're going to make sure we try to build on it.
"It's still a work in progress. We're still a young team. But we can't use that as an excuse anymore. We've got to grow up quick."
Longmont's victory marked its 11th in a row over its rival since a 52-50 loss on Jan. 12, 2007. The loss was a particularly tough one to swallow for Niwot, especially given the way the Cougars opened the game.
The Cougars (4-6, 0-2) entered the game with plenty of distractions after practice was canceled on Thursday due to police finding a "hit list" at the school with 20 names on it, including some of athletes. School was canceled on Friday, and the boys hoops team had to settle for a morning shootaround at the rec center to conduct final game prep for Longmont.
The Cougars, however, seemed anything but distracted early, using hot shooting to race out to a 12-5 lead before Johnson closed the first quarter with five points and Sterkel started the second with a 3-pointer for the lead.
Niwot got 12 points from Jordan Keeler, 11 from both Clark Colwell and Forrest Lee, and nine from Kyle Kolakowski in a balanced offensive effort.
"It's a pretty big distraction but you've got to move through it," Keeler said of Thursday's events at NHS. "I didn't think that played a factor really. We just didn't play as we should have."
Longmont 50, Niwot 46
At Longmont HS
NIWOT (4-6, 0-2)
A. Hart 0 0-0 0, Keeler 5 0-4 12, Lee 3 4-6 11, Merriman 1 0-0 2, Mitelhaus 0 0-0 0, Kolakowski 3 2-2 9, Bounds 0 0-0 0, Colwell 3 4-4 11, J. Hart 0 1-2 1. Totals 15 11-18 46.
LONGMONT (6-1, 1-1)
Alaniz 0 5-7 5, Sterkel 8 0-0 22, Jessup 2 0-0 4, Donaldson 2 0-2 4, Kemp 0 0-0 0, Sullivan 0 0-0 0, Mitchell 1 0-2 2, Johnson 4 5-6 13. Totals 17 10-17 50.
Sco re by quarters:
Niwot 12 13 9 12 -- 46
Longmont 10 15 12 13 -- 50
3-point field goals -- Niwot (5): Keeler 2, Lee, Kolakowski, Colwell; Longmont (6): Sterkel 6. Total fouls -- Niwot 20, Longmont 18. Fouled out -- Johnson. Technicals -- None.