HUTCHINSON — It was maybe the toughest moment of Hesston’s season last year.
After entering their Class 4A sub-state championship game with a glossy 20-2 record, the Swather boys were embarrassed 70-33 by host Abilene. Still stinging in the locker room from the defeat, Hesston coach Greg Raleigh instead found a silver lining to share with his team.
“I said, ‘We’ve got a really good chance to be really good next year if you guys work hard,’ ” Raleigh said of his postgame speech. And they’ve done everything I asked the whole year.”
Not only was Hesston really good in 2013-14. The Swathers were perfect.
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Hesston capped a 26-0 season with a clutch performance, rallying to beat Beloit 59-54 in Saturday’s Class 3A championship game at the Sports Arena. The title is the Swathers’ first since 1985 and third in program history and capped a Hesston sweep of 3A with the girls topping Lyons 46-36 earlier in the day for their first state title.
“We don’t do it as easy as the girls, but we persevere,” Raleigh said. “We didn’t talk about or anything else, but I guess this was our ultimate goal obviously. So 26-0 is amazing and we had some close ones along the way that helped get us ready for this.”
One of those close calls came in Friday’s 58-51 semifinal win over Riverton, when the Swathers had to rally in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory. Grant Raleigh was the hero in that one, hitting two big three-pointers in the fourth quarter to spark the comeback win.
Raleigh was at it again, and Saturday night his shot might have been even bigger.
After seeing Beloit erase a 51-45 lead with three-pointers by Luke Hesting and Payton Vetter, the Swathers found themselves down with a minute to go. Bailey Vetter answered a free throw by Hesston’s Justin Smith, hitting a driving shot in the lane with 1:05 to go that gave the Trojans a 53-52 lead — their first since midway through the third quarter.
Then Raleigh delivered, pulling up from the right wing with 48 seconds left to bury the go-ahead three-pointer.
“My dad’s been trying to put me in those kind of situations my whole life,” said Raleigh, who was 3 of 10 on three-pointers before hitting the game-winner. “It’s kind of hard to simulate that, but I knew it was going in when it left me and my teammates had confidence in me to make it, too. That’s everything I’ve dreamed of.”
The hero role fit more than just Raleigh, however. All five Swather starters came up with key plays that played no small role in the Hesston victory.
• Ryan Schadler capped a furious Hesston charge to close the third quarter, burying a three-pointer at the buzzer that capped a 9-3 run that gave the Swathers a 39-38 lead. After Beloit’s possession following Raleigh’s go-ahead shot, he tied up Bailey Vetter and forced the Trojan sophomore to travel.
• Tyler McCartney followed Schadler’s third-quarter buzzer beater with a three-pointer to open the fourth and keep the momentum in Hesston’s corner, and later added a driving layup that pushed the lead to eight.
• Wyatt McKinney all but clinched the win, getting a steal with less than 20 seconds to go and hitting 1 of 2 free throws to give the Swathers a four-point cushion.
• And Justin Smith added nine points and a team-high 11 rebounds.
“We’ve built on that all year long,” Greg Raleigh said. “All seven guys that play can score and we’ve got four guys averaging double figures that all had games over 20. We’re hard to match up with because of that. I thought they might come out and try to junk up on us, but that’s a tribute to the fact that can’t take any one of them. I’m proud of our kids for that.”
Raleigh led the Swathers with 22 points and Schadler ended with 14.
Beloit (24-2) was led by Payton Vetter’s 19 and Bailey Vetter’s 13.