LOVELAND — The Shining Mountain boys basketball team is back in the state tournament for the first time since falling one win short of a state title in 2013 and so far they're making the most of the opportunity.
On Thursday morning at the Budweiser Events Center, the fourth-seeded Lions defeated the fifth-seeded Kit Carson Wildcats 45-34 in the opening round of the Class 1A state tournament. After a hard-fought defensive struggle, the Lions are now heading back to the Final 4.
The Lions will play the winner of Thursday night's game between No. 1 Holly and No. 8 Cheraw in the Final 4 on Friday night at 8:30 p.m.
"We're happy to be moving on," Lions head coach Sean Lynch said. "At state, everyone's good so it was really about who was going to make the plays down the stretch and today we made those plays."
Though the Lions never trailed in the game, they never led by more than eight points until the final 90 seconds. Both teams came out firing, scoring the game's first five baskets from behind the 3-point line but both the Lions and the Wildcats struggled to score after the initial shooting barrage.
Shining Mountain led by four after the first quarter and held the Wildcats scoreless for the first 4 minutes, 40 seconds of the second quarter but still held a slim 21-18 lead at halftime. Up three points with four minutes left in the game, the Lions outscored the Wildcats 11-3 down the stretch to close out the win.
"Both ways, it was kind of a grind," Lynch said. "It seemed like every time we got a little run, they'd stunt it with a three and every time they got a little momentum, we'd stunt it. That's kind of how we expect every game to be at this point. You've just got to grind it out."
Lions senior Gavin Edwards shot 43 percent from behind the arc and tied teammate Gray Hill for the team lead with 13 points. Even despite Wildcats junior Brad Johnson scoring 20 points, the Lions were able to hold the Wildcats under 35 points on a day when they themselves mustered their lowest output of the season.
"I thought we played a little frantic at times and the nerves got to us a little bit but we ended up doing what we needed to do to pull out the win," Edwards said. "It was definitely a good game and we're looking forward to tomorrow. It's a fun game to play and it's a good feeling to be out of the first round."
The Lions will be back at the Budweiser Events Center for their Final 4 game.
Shining Mountain 45, Kit Carson 34
At Budweiser Events Center
KIT CARSON (18-6)
Jaxon Crawford 2 2-5 7, Brad Johnson 7 2-4 20, William Hornung 1 0-0 2, Caine Farmer 1 0-0 2, Trevor Medford 0 0-0 0, Marco Solis 0 0-1 0, Blake Dickey 1 0-0 3. Totals 12 4-10 34.
SHINING MOUNTAIN (22-2)
Gray Hill 5 3-6 13, Luke Feigal 2 2-2 7, Nathan Fairmont 3 0-1 6, Gavin Edwards 5 0-0 13, Leo Mason 2 1-4 4, Jordan Cherin 1 0-0 2, Gopal Zubaedi 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 5-12 45.
Score by quarters:Kit Carson 11 7 11 5 — 34
Shining Mountain 15 6 11 13 — 45
3-point field goals — Kit Carson (6): Johnson 4, Crawford, Solis; Shining Mountain (4): Edwards 3, Feigal. Total fouls — Kit Carson 18, Shining Mountain 13. Fouled out — Crawford.