GREELEY — Just one night before the Longmont Christian Warriors made their debut in the Class 1A state basketball tournament at Bank of Colorado Arena on the campus of Northern Colorado they gathered together for a team dinner.
Unfortunately, coach Myron Huey had to send six guys (four starters) home because of illness. Something that forced the Warriors to limit practice as well.
On Thursday afternoon, still not 100 percent, Longmont Christian took the court against Kit Carson anyway, hoping that sweating it out and winning the schools first state playoff game would be the perfect medicine.
After three quarters played at the Wildcats' pace (41-32), the Warriors came alive in the fourth and cut the lead to 41-40. But with an officiating crew that wasn't on their side — the foul count was 22-12 in favor Kit Carson — Longmont Christian couldn't clear that final hurdle and ended up losing 52-47.
"We were very gritty and we had a couple of chance to take the lead and we just didn't do it," said Huey, whose team (20-5) drops into the consolation half of the bracket against Ouray and needs two more wins to set the school mark for most in a season. "Not to make excuses, but we had a lot of illness."
Cameron Jauregui and freshman Dominic Puchino — who was routinely coming to the bench to spray his aching throat — led the fourth-quarter rally that gave the Warriors hope.
Longmont Christian was doing a good job forcing not only bad Kit Carson shots, but turnovers on the defensive end that were helping them get back in it.
With one more chance to take the lead for the first time in the game, Longmont Christian appeared to have turned over the Wildcats again and a rugby-like scrum at center-court should have at least resulted in a jump-ball, but instead Jackson Solem was called for a foul.
"We have to fight through when things don't go our way," said Huey, whose sophomore defensive stopper Timmy Eldred was fantastic against Kit Carson's outside gunners.
Kit Carson, which got 45 of its points from two players — Jaxon Crawford and Brad Johnson — did what it needed to do down the stretch to close out the game. Despite not making a single field goal in the final eight minutes, the Wildcats were 11 of 12 from the foul line when it mattered most.
It was a disappointing end for the Warriors, who many around the state had written off after the loss of Croatian Antun Marecevic. Possibly the greatest sacrifice made by any of the Warriors was that of senior Luke Puchino.
A dynamic scorer, he realized what he needed to do to make his team better and get them to state. It was a tough pill to swallow after the game.
"It is probably one of the worst feelings you will ever have and I just can't explain it," said Luke Puchino, who finished with six points — including a huge banked-in 3-pointer in the fourth. "I learned how to be a better teammate overall. I don't care about stats, because all I was looking for was a ring and as a leader getting my team to where we wanted to be."
Dominic Puchino led the Warriors with 21 points. Clayton Eldred finished with eight.
KIT CARSON 52, LONGMONT CHRISTIAN 47
At Bank of Colorado Arena (Greeley)
LONGMONT CHRISTIAN (20-5)
Dominic Puchino 8 4-7 21, Jackson Solem 2 1-2 5, Cameron Jauregui 3 0-0 6, Clayton Eldred 3 2-2 8, Zach Schaefer 0 0-0 0, Luke Puchino 2 0-0 6, Timmy Eldred 0 1-4 1, Ivan Hoogland 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 8-15 47.
KIT CARSON (18-5)
Jaxon Crawford 7 5-8 22, Brad Johnson 7 9-10 23, William Hornung 1 2-2 4, Jayden McCombs-Farmer 0 0-0 0, T.J. Conaway 0 0-0 0, Cordell Farmer 0 0-0 0, Trevor Medford 1 0-0 2, Blake Dickey 0 1-3 1. Totals 16 17-23 52.
Score by quarters:Longmont Christian 10 12 10 15 — 47 Kit Carson 18 12 11 11 — 52
3-point field goals — Longmont Christian (3): L. Puchino 2, D. Puchino; Kit Carson (3): Crawford 3. Total fouls — Longmont Christian 22, Kit Carson 12. Fouled out — Solem, C. Eldred.