HALSTEAD — After listening to Halstead coach Joe Gerber in the locker room following Friday's semifinal of the Adolph Rupp Tournament, the Dragons walked back onto the court and listened to the applause of the fans waiting for them.
It was a deserving moment for Halstead, which defeated Rose Hill 63-51 in the semifinals to advance to tonight's championship game against Cheney. The Dragons, ranked fourth in Class 3A, beat a high-quality opponent, snapping Rose Hill's eight-game winning streak to improve to 11-1.
That reception by the fans doesn't happen after every game, though.
"It doesn't," Gerber said, "but we have savvy fans. They recognize it's a big win."
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Halstead overcame an awful first quarter when it shot 1 of 14 from the floor, including 1 of 10 from three-point range, and trailed Rose Hill 12-2 before Jared Regehr hit a three-pointer.
Regehr's three started an 18-2 run as Halstead held Rose Hill scoreless for nearly seven minutes to take a 20-14 lead. It was Chris Santoya's 11 points and Dakota Becker coming off the bench with eight points that keyed Halstead in the period.
"Chris is the best player that nobody knows about," said Gerber, whose team shot 15 of 25 in the final three periods. "I'm serious. I think he's averaging 18.5 points a game.... He's as good a 5-foot-9 1/2 post as I've ever had. But he's not a post. He's your point guard, he's your off-guard, he's your five-man."
Santoya led Halstead with 21 points and 10 rebounds. He was 6 of 11 from the floor and 9 of 9 from the free-throw line. Becker, in his best game of the season, finished with 11.
With the score tied at 24-24 at the half, Halstead took total control in the third quarter, outscoring Rose Hill 17-5.
"The key is the third quarter," Rose Hill coach Rocky Stone said. "They came out smoking defensively, and we could not do anything."
Rose Hill was 1 of 13 from the floor in the third period — the Rockets finished 17 of 56 for the game, including 3 of 20 from three-point range — even though they had eight offensive rebounds.
While Tyler Shirley finished with a team-high 20 points for Rose Hill, he did it on 8-of-21 shooting. Teammate Dillon Rapp had 10 points, while Sam Newton had two.
"We didn't make key shots and key players didn't score," Stone said.
But what was especially disheartening for Rose Hill was Halstead's fourth-quarter at the free-throw line. Halstead made 18 of 21 free throws and finished 27 of 32. Cody Ratcliffe made 10 of 11 in the final period.
When Stone heard the free throw stats, he turned his head away and groaned.
"We made a little run in the fourth quarter, but when you're that far behind and they're hitting 80 percent at the free throw line..."
Gerber didn't even crack a smile when he heard Halstead's final numbers at the line.
"I would tell you that's not anything different than we've done all year," he said. "We're shooting 75 percent from the line."
Rose Hill12 12 5 22 — 51 Halstead 5 19 17 22 — 63
ROSE HILL: Shirley 20, Rapp 10, Paddock 4, Newton 2, Khalidi 7, Richards 2, Pritchard 6. Totals 17 (3) 14-23 51.
HALSTEAD: Regehr 11, McKee 3, Santoya 21, Ratcliffe 14, Pjesky 3, Becker 11. Totals 16 (4) 27-32 63.
Cheney 60, Moundridge 58 — With three seconds remaining, Moundridge trailed by two following Trey Unrau's three-pointer. The Wildcats needed a quick foul.
Moundridge's Austin Neufeld did one better, stealing the inbounds pass and going to the rim for the basket. But his shot bounced off the back of the rim and then off the front before falling to the ground as Cheney escaped with the win.
"I didn't even see it," said Cheney's Sean Osler, who finished with a game-high 30 points after hitting 3 of 5 three-pointers and 9 of 11 free throws. "I had my back to the play and I turned around to see the ball coming off the rim."
It was a disappointing finish for Cheney, despite the win.
The Cardinals led by 11 at 52-41 with 4:48 remaining, but that's when Moundridge got hot with a 7-0 run. Cheney hit 11 of 13 free throws in the fourth quarter, but with 12 seconds remaining, missed the second of two.
That set up Unrau for the three-pointer to get Moundridge within two.
"We made some bad decisions in the final few minutes," Cheney coach Stan Dohm said. "We got a little tentative, took some bad shots."
Cheney's depth was key throughout, as the Cardinals consistently interchanged nine players and who was keying on Unrau, who is averaging around 30 points per game.
Unrau finished with 21 points, but he was 9 of 22, including 2 of 12 on threes. Neufeld finished with 17 points.
Cheney's Ben Hill had 14 points and eight rebounds, while Taylor Beilman had 11 points.
Cheney (9-2) 17 15 13 15 — 60 Moundridge (11-1) 12 10 16 20 — 58
CHENEY: Osler 30, Hopper 3, Hill 14, Beilman 11, Williams 1, Scheer 1. Totals 19 (6) 16-21 60.
MOUNDRIDGE: Unrau 21, Kaufman 10, Neufeld 17, Loganbill 7, Otte 3. Totals 24 (6) 4-11 58.