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Casper College Mens Basketball

Casper College's Isaac Bonton high-fives a teammate during the T-Birds' game against Gillette College on Feb. 6 at Swede Erickson Thunderbird Gym.

For the first time since 1996, the Casper College men’s basketball team is headed to the National Junior College Athletics Association Division I Championships.

The No. 6 Thunderbirds (32-2) punched their ticket Saturday with an 87-74 victory over No. 11 Sheridan College to win the Region IX championship on the Generals’ home court.

Casper College led for most of the game before Sheridan College (31-3) cut the lead to 77-71 in the final 2 minutes. But the T-Birds put the game away at the free-throw line to defeat the Generals for the second time in three weeks.

The only losses for Casper College this season were a 105-103 overtime loss to No. 19 College of Southern Idaho back on Nov. 10 in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and a 97-87 defeat at Sheridan College on Jan. 16. Since then, the T-Birds have won 15 in a row.

The 32 wins are the most by a Casper College men’s team since the 1977-78 team went 36-4 and finished fifth at the NCJAA Championships. The 1969-70 T-Birds also won 32 games on their way to a fourth-place finish at the national tournament.

Now in his sixth season as the head coach, Dan Russell has a career record of 145-51 for a .740 winning percentage. Casper College legend Swede Erickson, who took the T-Birds to nine NJCAA Championships, finished his career with a .743 winning percentage.

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Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @CASJackN

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Sports Editor

Jack Nowlin returned to the Star-Tribune in 2007 after eight years covering Michigan State University athletics. A Wyoming native, and a graduate of Jeffrey City High School and the University of Wyoming, Jack serves as the Star-Tribune’s sports editor.

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