LOVELAND — You learned everything you needed to know about the heart of the Shining Mountain Lions on Friday night at the Budweiser Events Center.
Coach Sean Lynch's team rallied from a double digit deficit against the defending state champs to earn a berth in their second Class 1A state title game in the last four seasons.
Again on Saturday night, the Lions found themselves in an early hole to Fleming and again they fought and clawed their way back.
But on Saturday it wasn't meant to be. After closing what was a 12 point second half gap to 52-50 in the closing minutes, Shining Mountain simply ran out of time and fell to the Wildcats 58-53.
"They were hitting shots in the first half. They made a bunch of 3's and they would get hot for a little bit," said Lynch, who watched Fleming junior Jaxon King hit for 17 of his 23 in the opening half. "We knew we had to keep fighting and that we couldn't control what they were doing.
"We weren't going down without a fight and this team fights for everything. They are champions and have no reason to hang their heads."
Fleming (24-2) put the Lions in a 20-7 hole in the first quarter behind King and senior Blake Meredith. They scored 17 of the Wildcats' 20 first quarter points. It would be the only quarter they would win.
Shining Mountain, who got 32 from Gray Hill in the semifinal victory, again turned to the their senior leader to help mount the comeback.
The Lions, who stayed within shouting distance at 33-23 going to the halftime break, patiently ran their offense and were able to create more open looks for Hill in the third quarter. He scored all 14 Shining Mountain points and helped make it a two possession game going to the final eight minutes.
"I couldn't be more proud of Gray. He has been an amazing leader for our team all year both on and off the court," said Lynch of Hill, who finished with 26 points. "The team followed his lead and we came very close to winning a state championship."
The momentum carried over to the fourth quarter and Shining Mountain, who also got 13 from reserve Leo Mason, cut the lead to two after King fouled out with 2:43 to play.
Fleming would score six straight points, including a huge 3-pointer from Alex Vandenbark and all but put the game out of reach.
"They hit some shots and they made some plays and made play in crucial moments and you tip their hats to them," Lynch said. "It was an amazing ride. I believed in them and they believed in each other and we almost got it done."
Fleming 58, Shining Mountain 53
At Budweiser Events Center
SHINING MOUNTAIN (23-3)
Gray Hill 10 2-4 26, Luke Feigal 1 2-2 5, Nathan Fairmont 0 2-5 2, Gavin Edwards 1 0-0 3, Leo Mason 4 2-2-13, Jordan Cherin 0 2-2 2, Gopal Zubaedi 1 0-0 2. Totals 17 10-15 53.
Jaxon King 8 3-7 23, Matthew Tanner 0 1-4 1, Ben Lambrecht 1 3-4 5, Darian Wilkening 2 4-9 8, Joey Stahley 1 0-0 2, Blake Meredith 7 0-0 14, Tyler Johnson 0 0-0 0, Alex Vandenbark 2 0-0 5. Totals 21 11-21 58.
Score by quarters:Shining Mountain 9 14 14 16 — 53
Fleming 20 13 10 15 — 58
3-point field goals — Shining Mountain (9): G. Hill 4, Mason 3, Feigal, Edwards.; Fleming (5): King 4, Vandenbark. Total fouls — Shining Mountain 21; Fleming 16. Fouled out — G. Hill, Edwards; King.