DENVER — Everything the Longmont boys basketball program has done over the past year was about giving this current group of Trojans one last opportunity to compete together for a state championship.
It's a special group that defied an underdog label to claim the Class 4A title in 2018 and has not lost since, proving itself worthy of a chance to defend the crown.
On Friday night at the Denver Coliseum, the unbeaten No. 2 Trojans cleared the final obstacle between them and back-to-back title game appearances with a 61-49 victory over No. 14 Pueblo East in the Final 4. Back at the Coliseum at 3 p.m. on Saturday, the Longmont boys will get their long-awaited chance to take another golden ball home to rest beside last year's.
"This is all we've been working for," Longmont senior Calvin Seamons said. "Tonight was a great win but we've been preparing for this all season. Now, we just need to make sure we cap the season on a high note."
Now victorious in 52 of their last 53 games, when the Trojans (27-0) take the court on Saturday, they will also have appeared in four of the past five Final 4's and three of the last five 4A state title games.
The defending champions, however, came within a point of not making it past Friday night.
Five days removed from an overtime win over No. 10 Harrison in the quarterfinals, Longmont led the Eagles (17-10) throughout Friday's contest. Despite trailing by as many as 14 in the third quarter, the Eagles cut the Trojans' lead to one, 50-49, with 3 minutes, 12 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. But Longmont's senior point guard Brady Renck, who led all scorers with 18 points, hit a pair of free throws with 2:49 left that sparked the Trojans to close out the game with an 11-0 run.
"They gave us their best shot in the second half," Renck said. "But at the end there, we made a championship run as we would call it. We got ourselves some comfort and finished it off. We preach trying to play perfect defense and we got a stop and two steals in a row. Then we hit some free throws and when we looked up, we had a double-digit lead.
"Basketball is a game of runs. We handled theirs and we went on our own when we needed it most."
The Eagles won each of their first three playoff games by four points or fewer and threatened to upset a third straight higher seed. Seamons finished with 14 points and seven rebounds to help Longmont prevent that from happening, and Jaydon Elkins scored 10 and Beck Page chipped in nine.
"The great thing that I see is that we continue to have tremendous desire to win," Trojans head coach Jeff Kloster said. "When the game was close, my kids showed resiliency, they found ways to play great defense and found a way to up their game. It wasn't a perfect game but it was a game that gave us an opportunity to play tomorrow."
Longmont will play the No. 1 Lewis-Palmer Rangers (27-0), who defeated No. 4 Holy Family (22-5) in Friday's earlier Final 4 game, in Saturday's championship game. The Trojans defeated the Rangers in last winter's title game when Oakley Dehning hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to break a 59-59 tie and deliver the Trojans' their first state title in the sport since 1942.
Lewis-Palmer has won 39 of its last 40 games and has appeared to be on a collision course with Longmont since the season began.
"I'm pumped, man," Seamons said. "I can't wait."
Longmont 61, Pueblo East 49
At Denver Coliseum
PUEBLO EAST (19-10)
Harding 0 0-0 0, London 0 0-2 0, King 0 0-0 0, Medrano 4 0-0 8, Mattorano 2 0-0 6, Padula 0 3-4 3, Simony 0 0-0 0, Kindred 8 0-0 17, Herring 4 4-6 12, Miller 1 0-0 3, Bowman 0 0-0 0, Klausing 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 7-12 49.
Nowell 0 0-0 0, Schneider 2 1-4 5, Yazzie 0 0-0 0, Renck 4 10-11 18, Elkins 3 3-4 10, Dye 1 0-4 2, Dehning 1 1-3 3, Rulon 0 0-0 0, Sprecher 0 0-0 0, Page 3 2-2 9, Seamons 6 2-6 14, Kurjak 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 19-34 61.
Score by quarters:Pueblo East 10 9 18 12 — 49
3-point field goals — Pueblo East (4): Mattorano 2, Kindred, Miller; Longmont (2): Elkins, Page. Total fouls — Pueblo East 26, Longmont 17. Fouled out — Padula.