With fans lining up more than four hours before game time, and fire marshals on hand to make sure the gymnasium didn't exceed capacity, Saturday evening's Class 4A Great 8 game between cross-town rivals Longmont and visiting Mead provided an atmosphere that is rarely seen in high school sports.
And while the result was a wire-to-wire 55-45 victory for the homestanding Trojans, both teams delivered in a contest that will take its rightful place in the city's long and rich sports history.
"That's two years in a row where we've had a Great 8 as a host in our building and our community has come out and really supported our program," said Longmont coach Jeff Kloster, who saw his team improve to 25-1 and advance to the Final Four for the second straight season. "Those are the memories that those kids are going to have for the remainder of their lives. They'll talk about that at every reunion. 'Remember the Valor (Christian game in 2015), remember the Mead game.'
"Those are things that will stick out in their memories forever."
And the Trojans will have a chance to add to those memories, as the win allows them to advance to next week's Final Four at the Coors Events Center against the aforementioned Valor Christian. But at least for the immediate moments after Saturday's contest, Longmont was just happy to have survived against a gritty Mavericks squad that pushed them to the end.
"It was a great game, lot of fun to be a part of that," senior Kolton Bachman said. "You couldn't ask for anything more."
Playing in front of the estimated raucous crowd of 2,500, the Trojans raced out to a 12-0 lead that had Mead (20-6) reeling. Eli Sullivan and Cooper Rothe both came out extremely aggressive, each hitting a pair of early buckets to spark the early burst.
It didn't help the Mavericks chances any that they had trouble holding on to the ball, turning it over nine times in the first quarter alone.
But Mead has shown incredible toughness through the season, and they didn't go quietly. Walker Korell hit the team's first field goal with one minute, 34 seconds left in the first, spinning past Justinian Jessup to get to the hoop.
That bucket seemed to steady the Mavericks, who would remain within striking distance from then on out.
"They have great defense, and coming in we knew we were going to have to work hard towards breaking that defense," said Korell, who finished with a game high 21. " We practiced it all week and executed things so well, but I think it just came down to a little bit of jitters today.
"We didn't make fully smart passes and thinking things all the way through."
While Korell was keeping Mead in the game, Jessup was making sure Longmont stayed ahead. The Trojans Boise State-bound senior hit his first seven shots of the game en route to 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
"I'll do whatever it takes to win, because the win is definitely the most important thing to me," Jessup said.
While Jessup was his usual spectacular self throughout, it was the play of Bachman down the stretch that may have played the biggest part in holding of Mead's comeback attempt.
Bachman, who missed his first five shots in the game, came up huge down the stretch, scoring seven of his nine points in the fourth while also grabbing several key rebounds and getting a big block on a 3-point attempt.
"Kolton is a tremendous athlete, his athleticism is second to none on our team," Kloster said. "He and Justinian both had their moments in tonight's ballgame."
Longmont 55, Mead 45
Cameron Cheung 1 0-0 2, James Maher 1 4-4 6, Michael Ward 4 2-3 11, Van Lindemann 1 0-1 2, Walker Korell 7 4-4 21, Edwards 1 1-2 3, Sandstrom 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 11-14 45
Eli Sullivan 2 1-3 5, Justinian Jessup 8 1-2 19, David Speidel 1 0-2 3, Cooper Rothe 2 3-5 7, Kolton Bachman 3 3-7 9, Ryan Rulon 2 0-0 6, Kevin Mitchell 2 2-2 6, Tol Mugunga 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 10-21 55
Score by quarters:Mead 7 12 12 14 — 45
Longmont 15 17 12 11 — 55
3-point field goals — Mead (4): Korell 3, Ward; Longmont (5) Jessup 2, Rulon 2, Speidel. Fouled out — Ward. Technical fouls — none.
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