CHEYENNE – Lawson Lovering had been waiting for this moment since his freshman season.
The Cheyenne Central standout and future University of Colorado player grinned from ear to ear in the hallway just outside the Indians’ locker room at Storey Gym on Friday night.
Moments before, Lovering and his teammates virtually shut down one of the state’s top offenses in Cheyenne East during a 63-45 win to capture the Rick Lewis Memorial traveling trophy.
“I’ve been working to get there, to win that, and it’s a relief,” said Lovering, who led the Indians with 15 points. “Finally got it.”
The hype that built up toward Friday’s much- anticipated showdown pierced through a jam-packed Storey Gym. But offense was slim pickings in the opening quarter. Fouls were more frequent than baskets, but the opening 8 minutes may just have been a precursor to a chain reaction that unfolded the rest of the way.
Two staples of East’s lineup – twins Xavier and Demetrius McCord each picked up two fouls in the first frame and it took less than 2 minutes for the former to receive his third. The duo was tasked with guarding Lovering down low and, with both of them in foul trouble, that strategy became that much more difficult. Shooting also plagued the No. 2-ranked T-Birds, who were never able to find a rhythm in the first half.
“They were way better than we were,” second-year Thunderbirds coach Rusty Horsley said. “They were way more prepared. We didn’t have any answers for them.”
Top-ranked Central (12-1 overall, 3-0 Class 4A Southeast Quadrant) took advantage. What at one time was a 7-7 game became more separated. Brady Storebo capped a 14-5 run with drive through the lane to give Central a 21-12 advantage with 1 minute, 12 seconds left in the half.
The Indians took a 22-15 edge into the locker room.
East (11-4, 2-1) was held to just five field goals and one 3-pointer in the first half.
“We mixed some defenses at them,” Indians coach Tagg Lain said. “We did a good job early, especially of just being tight and not giving up too many drives in addition to that. It’s a really tough team to guard, no question about it.
“Probably as much as anything, was our help inside and help-to-help. They got very little. If they drove to the basket, they to finish on their own, and they were tough finishes. That was our night.”
The T-Birds established some much-needed flow during the third quarter. A three-point play from Graedyn Buell cut Central’s lead to 26-23 midway through the period, but Central quickly pulled away. Consecutive 3-pointers from Brady and Brock Storebo help push the margin to 39-24 later on in the quarter.
“They played harder than we did,” Horsley added. “They got after us. We’re going to have to work on some things.”
Buell paced the T-Birds with 16 points, while Xavier McCord finished with 11, including six in the fourth quarter. Brady Storebo recorded 11 points, while Nathaniel Talich pitched in with 10 for the Indians.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, a steady rumble of cheer turned into a roar of joy and excitement. A few feet away from the court, Lain wore a familiar grin as did Lovering.
“What a stage and what a win,” the coach said.
CENTRAL 63, EAST 45
Cheyenne Central...... 7 15 23 18 – 63
Cheyenne East...... 7 8 16 14 – 45
Cheyenne Central: Cates 3, Stampfli 6, Lobatos 8, LeBeaumont 2, Talich 10, Bra. Storebo 11, Bro. Storebo 6, Lovering 15, Burns 2, Whitworth 0, Cummings 0, Norrod 0.
Cheyenne East: X. McCord 11, Rayl 3, Aumiller 2, Micheli 0, Pope 3, D. McCord 7, Buell 16, Clark 0, Bush 3, Codner 0.