LONGMONT — Eddie Kurjak’s two-handed hammer with two minutes left on Tuesday night felt like the stamp that punched the Longmont boys basketball team’s ticket to the Class 4A Final Four.
Hosting the No. 7-seeded Wildcats (14-3) in the Great 8, the No. 2 Trojans (15-2) pulled away in the second half to win 58-44. The Trojans are now headed to their third Final Four in the last four years.
“That dunk sure felt like a dagger to me,” Kurjak said. “I heard Keegan (Patterson) saying, ‘dunk it, dunk it.’ The whole game was a great performance from all our guys, especially on defense. We knew they were going to be scrappy and physical, so we wanted to make sure we matched that on defense. But that kind of dunk always feels good, especially in this kind of game, and I felt good to sort of punch the ticket right there.”
If the Trojans’ soaring 6-foot-9 senior forward punched their proverbial ticket, Kurjak and his Longmont teammates paid for said ticket with defense.
Pueblo Central entered Tuesday night averaging 77.7 points over their last three games, including postseason wins over No. 26 Severance and No. 23 Mountain View. But the Trojans held the Wildcats, who were without leading scorer Kadyn Betts (18.1 ppg) because of an ankle injury, well below their scoring average.
Still, plagued by turnovers and missed shots early, the Trojans took a while to get going. But down five points with five minutes left in the second quarter, Kurjak was taken down hard on a breakaway and it spurred the Trojans on a 18-7 run that led to a 27-21 halftime lead. After a back-and-forth third quarter, junior Caleb Johnson hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave the Trojans a six-point lead to start the fourth.
Kurjak, who scored a game-high 21 points, and Patterson (20 points) combined to score 19 points in the fourth quarter and the Trojans went 13-for-17 at the free throw line to pull away for the victory.
“They punched first in the first quarter but before the game, we talked about making sure we would punch back,” Kurjak said. “We made sure to execute and I thought it was a great game from start to finish. We were upset last year in the Elite Eight, so it’s good to finally get one.”
Longmont has reached at least the Great 8 in eight of the last 12 seasons, including five Final Four appearances, one runner-up finish and a state championship in 2018. The Trojans will play host to No. 3 Montrose, a team making its first semifinals appearance since 1992, in the Final Four on Thursday.
“I’m just proud of my kids and I’m proud of the fact that they did it together,” Longmont head coach Jeff Kloster said. “We knew going in that it was going to be a dogfight and I think our kids should be really proud because they represented Longmont High School in the right way.”