FORT MORGAN — It is one thing to talk the talk.
And let's face it, the Longmont Christian Warriors were good at it.
It is quite another to walk the walk and back it up.
There wasn't a sole inside of the Fort Morgan gymnasium on Saturday night not wearing the Warriors purple and black that thought coach Myron Huey's squad had much of a chance against the top-ranked Fleming Wildcats.
Yet there they were up 63-62 with under a minute to go and staring their first state berth squarely in the face.
But fate has a funny way of intervening and it did on for Fleming in the final 30 seconds and they escaped with a 66-63 victory and will have a chance to play for a state title next week in Loveland at the Budweiser Events Center.
"Fleming is excellent, they are a very good team that is well coached, they run the floor," said Warriors coach Myron Huey, whose team finished their magical season 14-10. "They got up on us by 15 and we had the guts and the where-with-all to come back and get the lead.
"This was as highly competitive a game as I've seen in a long time in high school basketball."
The No. 6 seed in the region, a bone of contention for the Warriors staff and players, Longmont Christian looked like they might get run out of the building early on. The Wildcats were hitting everything they threw up, especially Jaxon King — who scored 12 of his team-high 20 in the opening quarter.
But the Warriors clawed back in, and junior shooter Luke Puchino picked up right were he left off the night before against Hi-Plains. He hit four first half 3-pointers and 6-foot-9 Croatian Antun Maricevic was ruling the inside, keeping the game tight at the break.
Longmont Christian withstood the third quarter pressure that was certain to come and went to the fourth within shouting distance at 49-42, thanks to Maricevic who picked up the scoring slack when Puchino couldn't find his earlier range.
"I wanted this game so much, with all my heart," said Maricevic, who talks to his parents back in Croatia every day. "I promised coach for his 65th birthday that we would win state. If we play them again, we win. This time, not so lucky."
Fleming was up 58-48 with under 3:30 to play, when the Warriors made their biggest run of the game. A 12-2 burst that started after Fleming's Joey Stahley was called for a technical foul knotted the game at 60-60 with 2:11 to play.
The Warriors would take the lead 63-62 with 1:11 to play when Puchino, who finished with 24 points, hit his sixth 3-pointer of the game. It would be the last points they would get.
Stahley would put the Wildcats back up with 29 second to go and all Longmont Christian could muster in the final seconds was a turnover and missed 3-point heave by Maricevic.
The Croatian was absolutely brilliant, scoring 34 points in the losing effort.
"I have played with guys in high school that have played in the pros, John Henson, and Antun is still the best player I have ever seen," said Huey's son and assistant Alex. ""I have never seen someone as complete as that guy."
Said Fleming coach Tom Hessler, whose team will head to state with a 21-2 record: "He's an amazing player. He's hard to guard, he makes everyone around him better and really he could create a shot for himself on every possession. You just don't see 6-9 kids in 1A. He got 34, but he had to work for everyone of them."
The Warriors, and rightfully so, probably deserved a better fate. But in the end, they will be able to walk away with their head held high, knowing they gave — what they believe to be the eventual 1A champs — all they wanted and more.
"I'll tell you one thing, we are better than a six seed, and you can print that," Huey said. "These guys didn't deserve what they got all through the districts and into here and they sucked it up and came within a basket of winning it."
Fleming 66, Longmont Christian 63
At Fort Morgan
LONGMONT CHRISTIAN (14-10)
Jackson Solem 1 1-2 3, Cameron Jauregui 0 2-2 2, Kenneth Hannan 0 0-0 0, Zach Schaefer 0 0-0 0, Blake Azar 0 0-0 0, Luke Puchino 8 2-7 24, Max Azar 0 0-0 0, Antun Maricevic 12 8-8 34. Totals 21 13-19 63.
Jaxon King 7 4-6 20, Matthew Tanner 1 0-0 3, Ben Lambrecht 3 2-4 8, Darian Wilkening 1 1-3 3, Joey Stahley 1 1-2 3, Blake Meredith 7 0-0 15, Tyler Johnson 0 0-0 0, Alex vandenbark 5 4-6 14. Totals 25 12-21 66.
Score by quarters:Longmont Christian 15 16 11 21 — 63
Fleming 22 12 15 17 — 66
3-point field goals — Longmont Christian (8): Puchino 6, Maricevic 2; Fleming (4): King 2, Tanner, Meredith. Total fouls — Longmont Christian 20; Fleming 12. Fouled out — Solem. Technical fouls — Stahley.