The one aspect about the Fowler Goldbugs that hadn't been tested this season was the ability to come back from being down late in the game.
Although the Goldbugs did rally to get a double-digit deficit down to three points a couple of times in the fourth quarter, they had no answer of stopping the inside-outside game of the Axtell Eagles in a 65-56 setback in the boys final of the Class 1A-Division II state basketball tournament at Fort Hays State University's Gross Coliseum.
Aaron Schmelzle scored 26 points (most on outside jump shots) while post player Payton Heinen made six of his seven shots (most within five feet) and 11-of-14 free throws for 23 points.
The top-seeded Goldbugs (25-1), who lost in the semifinals last season, could never get that one scoring push they had used to disheartened their opponents all season.
"It just wasn't there today," said Fowler senior post Jett Reese, who was visibly upset after the loss. "I don't really know right, but we'll figure this out later. I don't know how I feel right now. I'm still a bunch of nerves, really.
"I do see us coming back next year because we have a great system, a great coach and a great program."
Joel Milford had a double-double for Fowler with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Ty Clark added 12 points and Taylin Bird 11 in the Goldbugs' final game of the season.
The true difference of the game was the second half.
Axtell (19-8), who ended up beating the top three seeds of the tournament, shot 9-of-17 from the field and 14-of-20 from the line as they were able to push the margin to 47-37 late in the third quarter.
Fowler started their run after that, scoring the final five points of the third quarter to cut the deficit in half and whittled down to three twice in the final stanza, including 54-51 with 2:40 left in regulation. Schmelzle then hit two baskets and the Eagles hit eight of their last 10 free throws to seal their victory and claim to the state title.