DENVER — One year ago in Fort Morgan, the Longmont Christian Warriors huddled in the locker room and wondered what might have been after a heartbreaking loss to Fleming in a state qualifying game.
"The best thing you can be is a runner-up if you've got guys coming back," Warriors coach Myron Huey said. "Because they are hungry."
Longmont Christian's core group has been together for well over 10 years and on Saturday night at Metro State that continuity and familiarity combined for a 65-54 win over Flagler in the Class 1A Region 2 (Bracket 3) and the first ever state tournament berth for the Warriors.
For senior Jackson Solem, who has experienced a lot of highs during his prep career — especially on the golf course as a two-time Class 4A state champion for Silver Creek — helping his school earn a trip to Butler-Hancock Gym on the campus of UNC might be the most gratifying.
"We were talking the locker room before the game and I said we know how we felt the last time we did this and we can't have it again," said Solem, who led the Warriors with 17 points. "We've got three games left and we've got to make it work for as long as we can."
It was a frustrating first half for Huey and Longmont Christian, who watched No. 3-seed Flagler's Landon McCaffrey catch fire from long range. The senior, who attends nearby Hi-Plains High School (a co-op with the Panthers program), made four 3-pointers in the first quarter en route to his 25 points.
When the Warriors did their job on McCaffrey, it was the other Panthers that did the damage in getting them out to a 33-28 lead at the break.
"It's just like baseball, if the umpire is calling the high strike, you've got to swing at," said Huey, whose team had three starters with three fouls each in the first half. "We knew that we had to rotate guys enough, including defensive specialist Timmy Eldred, to make sure not only that we kept them fresh but those other guys from fouling out."
It paid off big time.
The fresh legs allowed the Warriors to continue their up-tempo pace, something that caught up to the Panthers — whose shots that were dropping early, were hitting the front of the rim late.
"We knew at halftime that if we played a good half we would win," said Huey, who praised his son and assistant coach Alex for keeping his boys motivated. "We have a lot of gutty guys with experience that really wanted this."
The Warriors opened the fourth quarter on a 9-2 run behind Solem, Cameron Jauregui and Clayton Eldred that seemed to take the life right out of Flagler.
In addition to Solem's 17, the Warriors — who will start the Class 1A state tournament next Thursday in Greeley — got 15 from Jauregui, 14 from Dominic Puchino and 12 from Luke Puchino.
"We've been doing this a long time and it's cool to be doing something where we can all succeed together," Solem said.
LONGMONT CHRISTIAN 65, FLAGLER 54
At Metro State
LONGMONT CHRISTIAN (20-4)
Dominic Puchino 5 4-4 14, Jackson Solem 7 3-5 17, Cameron Jauregui 7 1-1 15, Clayton Eldred 2 2-2 6, Zach Schaefer 0 0-1 0, Luke Puchino 5 0-1 12, Timmy Eldred 0 1-3 1. Totals 26 11-17 65.
Kyle Klann 4 2-2 11, Dustin Rico 2 1-4 5, Cameron Klann 3 0-0 7, Riley Marzolf 0 0-0 0, Landon McCaffrey 8 5-10 25, Nathan Oestman 3 0-0 6. Totals 20 8-16 54.
Score by quarters:Longmont Christian 20 8 17 20 — 65
Flagler 20 13 9 12 — 54
3-point field goals — Longmont Christian (2) L. Puchino; Flagler (6): McCaffrey 4, K. Klann, C. Klann. Total fouls — Longmont Christian 18, Flagler 16. Technical fouls — L. Puchino.