DENVER — The phrase 'trust the process' has been thrown around quite often in the sports world these days.
For the Longmont boys basketball team, it's much more simple than that. If they're to trust anything, it starts with just trusting each other.
This under-sized bunch of young men has been fighting through the 2017-18 season with the idea they've been overlooked all season, but after Friday night's rather dominating 71-60 win over Pueblo South in the Class 4A semifinals at the Denver Coliseum, perhaps it's time to realize these Trojans have all the intangibles of any team Jeff Kloster has ever coached.
For the second time in the past four seasons, albeit with an entirely new bunch of kids, Longmont has a chance to bring home a state championship trophy.
"It was just tremendous fundamental basketball by a bunch of young kids who are believing in each other and wanted to enjoy the moment," said Kloster after his team emerged from the post-game locker room with as much of a game-time feel as when they stepped out on the floor just about two hours earlier. "When we went into halftime, we felt really good where we were ... and I just have to tip my hat to the kids because they just really wanted this moment.
"It was just a great job as far as balance throughout the entire lineup."
The past two weeks, when the chips were all on the table, the Trojans have been beating a steady drum. No matter who they've faced, keeping the score close at the half has translated to coming out confident in the third quarter and turning the game into the one they want to play.
Again on Friday, the fifth-seeded Trojans were the aggressors in the second half, and they managed to baffle the top-seeded Colts on both ends of the floor. Longmont outscored Pueblo South 49-36, helping overcome a slim two-point deficit at the break against a team that had three double-digit average scorers.
Longmont forced South bigs Marcell Barbee and Jeremy Cody into foul trouble, and the Colts were visibly the more pressure-packed team throughout as the score remained close. Tonay Aragon was a non-factor offensively, and the Trojans relied on more than just leading scorer Luke Johnson to make shots.
Johnson once again was the rock, scoring 17 of his 22 points after the break. But in a Coliseum setting that has had criticism for being a cavernous place to shoot, the Trojans as a whole were money in the bank.
Four players scored in double figures for Longmont, including Brady Renck (10 points), Jaydon Elkins (11), Dallas Dye (10) and Johnson. Oakley Dehning added nine.
"We've fought through a lot of games lately, and we had confidence, in a close game ... just confident in how we finish," Johnson said after the win. "My freshmen and sophomore years, I never really got to play but it was still a cool experience and I really wanted to get back. It's a special moment that not many people can get to."
Much like last week's quarterfinal at Falcon, it was the supporting cast that carried the Trojans until Johnson could heat up. The senior, who was on the team in 2014-15 that lost to Valor Christian in the title game, did not register a shot in the first quarter. Yet Longmont trailed just 11-9 thanks in part to perimeter shots from Beck Page and Renck.
While Barbee and Cody did get some good looks inside during the second quarter, three more Longmont 3-pointers helped neutralize that. It was just 24-22 for the Colts at half.
Getting steals helped Longmont jump out to a 41-34 advantage with 1:47 left in the third quarter, and after South made a small dent to get to the fourth quarter down just 43-39, Longmont went on a 10-2 run to begin the final frame. Again, it was a mix of Renck, Elkins and Dehning that was responsible for that entire scoring stretch.
"I'm really proud of our team because I had two fouls in the first half and a bunch of other guys stepped up, which was really big for us," Johnson said. "We just hit a lot of shots. We saw the first few fall, and that just gave everyone confidence and we were sharing the ball."
By the 3:55 mark of the fourth, it was 57-43 and there was no looking back.
In all the key stats, Longmont was the better team. Unofficially, they out-rebounded PSHS 23-18, had four fewer turnovers and had 11 assists to the Colts' five.
"We've talked the entire year about how we will respect people but we will never fear, and I thought tonight our kids really had that mantra with them," Kloster said. "Every time they presented a run, we had an answer. We weren't afraid to attack downhill."
Longmont has not won a basketball title since 1942 but will get its chance at 3 p.m. against Lewis-Palmer. The Rangers beat Pueblo West 56-54 in the other semifinal.
Longmont 71, Pueblo South 60
At Denver Coliseum
Luke Johnson 7 6-7 22, Brady Renck 2 4-4 10, Jaydon Elkins 5 0-1 11, Dallas Dye 2 6-6 10, Oakley Dehning 3 1-2 9, Caden Dion 0 0-0 0, Beck Page 2 0-0 6, Calvin Seamons 1 1-2 3. Totals 22 18-22 71.
PUEBLO SOUTH (24-3)
Lawrence Ramos 3 2-2 9, Marcell Barbee 11 0-1 24, Jeremy Cody 4 0-0 8, Tonay Aragon 4 0-0 9, David Caporicci 1 0-0 3, Heath McLaughlin 1 1-1 3, Greyston Aguilera 1 0-0 3. Totals 25 3-4 60.
Score by quarters:Longmont9132128—71
3-point field goals — Longmont (9): Johnson 2, Renck 2, Page 2, Dehning 2, Elkins; Pueblo South (7): Barbee 2, Aragon 2, Caporicci, Aguilera, Ramos. Total fouls — Longmont 11, Pueblo South 18. Fouled out — Ramos, Cody. Technical fouls — None.