BOULDER — Eighteen years is a long waiting period.
Longmont High School has waited 18 years for its boys basketball team to get another shot at its long-awaited third state title. At Coors Events Center on Friday night, Longmont defeated Sierra 43-36 in the 4A Final Four to advance to the state title game.
The Trojans will be seeking their first boys basketball state title since 1942.
As he has throughout Longmont’s undefeated season, junior forward Justinian Jessup was the difference-maker when the stakes were the highest on Friday night.
Jessup led all scorers with 19 points, but most importantly was the cool-headed closer the Trojans needed to reach a championship game for the first time since it appeared in the Class 5A title game in 1997. Longmont (27-0) will face No. 2-seeded Air Academy (23-4), which defeated Lewis-Palmer 54-51 in Friday, in the 4A championship game on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
“I just tried to assert myself, especially at the end when my team needed me,” Jessup said. “It was back-and-forth the whole game and we did a great job. It’s great to do this for the fans, for our friends and for Longmont High School. It’s been a great season and to make it to the championship game, it feels great.”
Despite hitting just one of its first five shots, Longmont (27-0) shot 50 percent from the field and 100 percent from the free-throw line in the first quarter and led 13-10 to start the second. Longmont opened the second quarter with a 6-0 run, which Sierra (23-4) matched with an 8-0 run of its own.
Longmont led 22-18 at halftime.
The two teams traded baskets until Sierra, which was riding a 21-game win streak of its own, went on a 7-0 run to take a 32-31 lead. Longmont junior guard David Speidel, however, hit back-to-back shots to retake the lead for the Trojans, who led 33-32 to start the fourth quarter.
Longmont lost the lead again in the fourth quarter and Speidel, again, hit a shot to give the Trojans a 37-36 lead with 3 minutes, 8 seconds left in the game. From there, Jessup (17.1 ppg) took over and scored six straight points to put the Trojans ahead for good.
“We came together in the waning minutes and it was a total team effort on defense,” Longmont head coach Jeff Kloster said. “Then, what can you say about JJ? He kind of put us on his shoulders, he attacked the hoop and he hit free throws when he needed to. As a program, they refused to lose. It’s been a long time coming. I just want these kids to enjoy the moment and get after it.”
Friday’s game was tied four times and the lead changed hand seven times. For Longmont, which won a state title in 1937 as well as 1942, junior Kevin Mitchell (13.0 ppg) scored 10 points and Speidel scored six. Kolton Bachman, who sent the Trojans to the Final Four with a game-winner against Valor Christian in the Great 8, and senior Blake O’Grady combined for eight.
Sierra won the 4A state title in 2010, which was the last year Longmont appeared in the 4A Final Four. Senior Ke’andre Lewis led Sierra, which averaged 54.3 points in its first three postseason games, with 15 points on Friday.
Longmont has won every game it has played so far this season but Kloster’s message to his team was clear: There’s still one game, the big game, left to play.
“I’m very proud of them and we’ll enjoy it until tomorrow morning,” Kloster said. “Then we have to go back to work and try to win a state championship.”
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Longmont 43, Sierra 36
At Coors Events Center
Stephon Deedon 0 0-0 0, CJ Jennings 2 0-0 4, Keon Wingo 1 1-2 3, Kenard Barnett 2 0-0 6, Tevion Thompson 2 0-0 5, William Nelson 0 0-0 0, Anthony Dunlap 0 0-0 0, Ke’andre Lewis 6 3-6 15, Darrion Pyos 0 0-0 0, Mikal Russell 1 1-2 3, Jalen Sami 0 0-0 0. Totals 14 5-10 36.
Eli Sullivan 0 0-0 0, Juke Johnson 0 0-0 0, Justinian Jessup 7 5-5 19, David Speidel 3 0-0 6, Cooper Rothe 0 0-0 0, Jorge Cordova 0 0-0 0, Ryan Rulon 0 0-0 0, Kolton Bachman 1 2-2 4, Clint Sigg 0 0-0 0, Blake O’Grady 1 2-2 4, Kevin Mitchell 4 1-2 10. Totals 16 10-11 43.
Score by quarters:
Sierra 10 8 14 4 — 36
Longmont 13 9 11 10 — 43
3-point field goals — Sierra (3): Barnett 2, Thompson; Longmont (1): Mitchell. Total fouls — Sierra 14, Longmont 11.