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3A boys: Hesston overcomes rocky third quarter, keeps unbeaten season alive

Published March 14 at 10:45 p.m. | Last updated March 14 at 10:46 p.m.

For a team that not only hadn’t lost all season, but hadn’t even trailed in the fourth quarter of a game, Hesston’s boys basketball team sure had a certain calm about itself entering the final period of Friday’s Class 3A state quarterfinal with Riverton.

The Swathers might have been down 36-31 and a bit out of sorts, but the panic button was nowhere in sight.

“We just had to play,” Hesston coach Greg Raleigh said of his team’s demeanor at the quarter break. “It’s a long game and they’d had their runs. We’ve been down before, but these kids have played enough basketball … I thought we could play through it.”

The Swathers made plenty good on Raleigh’s faith, delivering a huge fourth quarter to keep their undefeated season alive. Getting two huge three-pointers from Grant Raleigh, Hesston outscored the Rams 27-15 in the final quarter to pull out a 58-51 victory.

Standing between Hesston (25-0) and its quest for a perfect season and first state title since 1985 in Saturday’s 6:15 p.m. championship game is Beloit (24-1), which fought off Nemaha Valley 58-54 in Friday’s first semifinal.

Riverton used a big 15-4 run to start the third quarter to erase a 23-19 halftime deficit and put the Swathers in an unfamiliar position. Hesston’s offense went stagnant in the period as the Swathers made just one field goal and gave up baskets on six straight possessions to the Rams.

It was still a five-point Ram lead when Hesston finally hit its stride. Tyler McCartney got the Swathers going with a three-pointer from the corner and on the next trip, Grant Raleigh tied things with a pair of free throws.

His biggest daggers quickly followed. First, Raleigh pulled up from 30-feet to swish a three-pointer that put the Swathers up for good with 5:20 play. After Landon North scored for Riverton on a tough runner, Raleigh buried his second straight three-pointer.

“I watched my sisters here when I was a little kid and I knew I was going to be taking those shots some day,” said Raleigh, who hadn’t made a three-pointer at the state tourney before burying the decisive blows. “I just knew they were going to go in.”

Riverton momentarily weathered the Swather surge and stayed within two, getting a possession to tie or take the lead with just more than two minutes to go. But the Rams turned it over and Hesston put it away at the free throw line, making 10 of 10 in the last 2:08.

“It was definitely different than anything we’ve felt this year,” Grant Raleigh said. “But we trusted each other and it’s an awesome feeling to know that everybody has each other’s backs.”

Wyatt McKinney finished 10 of 11 at the line and led the Swathers with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Ryan Schadler, who scored on a big breakaway layup with 1:46 to go, added 15, while Raleigh had 12 and McCartney 11.

Landon North scored 24 and Grant North added 16 for the Rams (21-3), who hurt their chances late by missing the front end of three straight one-and-one opportunities.