The South Gray Rebels took a little while to get going and even trailed early against the Hodgeman County Longhorns Friday.
But there would be no repeat of Tuesday’s relatively-near disaster that saw South Gray only beat a struggling Spearville team 53-41.
The Rebels beat the Longhorns handily Friday night by a score of 67-48.
“Our intensity level was much better than it has been the last three games,” South Gray head coach Mark Applegate said. “Our intensity level the entire game and taking care of the basketball, getting our hands on balls on defense and getting a lot of deflections, that really helped.”
They’ll play South Central in the Championship game of the 2019 SPIAA League Basketball Tournament at 8 p.m. Saturday. The Longhorns will play Kiowa County that same day at 4 p.m.
Both teams started relatively slow. A South Gray free throw gave the Rebels a 1-0 lead, the Longhorns scored 5 straight points to take a 5-1 lead. The Rebels then went on their own 5-0 run, taking a 6-5 lead on a 2-point shot by sophomore Ethan Salmans.
It was the start of what became a very entertaining rest of the quarter. It got even more interesting in the last minute or so. South Gray senior Clifton Miller hit a 3-pointer to give the Rebels a 10-7 lead.
It didn’t last long.
On the next possession, Hodgeman County junior Eli Salmans hit a 3 to tie the game at 10-10.
That didn’t last long either.
On the next possession for South Gray, Miller drained another long 3-pointer to give South Gray a 13-10 lead. The quarter ended on the next possession, but not before Hodgeman County senior Spencer Bowman hit a long jumper from inside the arc to cut South Gray’s lead to 13-12.
In the second quarter, whatever South Gray head coach Mark Applegate told his players apparently worked, because they came out of the huddle and took total control of the game.
The Rebels outscored the Longhorns 18-7 in the second quarter, hitting a buzzer-beater of their own (this one a 3-pointer) at the end of it. That 3 gave the Rebels a 31-19 lead going into halftime.
“We just started playing better defense,” Applegate said. “Hodgeman County’s got a good team. I mean (senior Thatcher) Lackey is an awfully good player. I mean he’s hard to guard. We were just fortunate they missed some shots, and it helped us.“
From there, South Gray put the foot on the gas. They took a 54-31 lead into the fourth after outscoring the Longhorns 23-12 in the third quarter. The Longhorns outscored the Rebels 17-13 in the fourth, but it was too little too late.
Saturday’s Championship Game will be a rematch of last year’s between South Gray and South Central, which South Gray won. Applegate said it’ll be tough.
“South Central’s a really athletic team and, once again, they’ve got some really good shooters,” Applegate said. “It’s going to be a dogfight.”