Burlington looked dead in the water Friday at Casper College’s Swede Erickson Thunderbird Gym.
The four-time defending state champions’ 10-point halftime lead was gone. Encampment had pushed to a 41-38 advantage midway through the fourth quarter and the Huskies no longer resembled defending champs.
“I called a timeout and told them to stop beating themselves,” Burlington head coach Matthew Davidson said. “And we called a play for Dontae.”
The timeout, and the subsequent play, proved to be just what the Huskies needed.
Dontae Garza, Burlington’s junior do-it-all guard, scored on an old-fashioned three-point play with 1:48 remaining to spark the Huskies to a 48-42 victory.
Burlington will face Kaycee, which held on for a 41-35 victory over Farson in the nightcap.
After Garza tied the score, senior Torey Wardell gave Burlington the lead for good with 1 of 2 free throws 30 seconds later. Garza then made it a three-point game with a steal and layup.
Two more Encampment turnovers resulted in four more Burlington points and the Huskies found themselves back in the championship game.
“After Dontae scored we decided to put some pressure on and that proved to be effective,” Davidson said. “At that point it was like the lights came on for us.
“Before that I thought our body language was bad. But after that we started holding our heads up.”
Garza led the Huskies with 17 points and 14 rebounds, with Wardell (13) and Dallin Davidson (10) also scoring in double figures.
Kaycee, which has won the past three Class 1A/6-man football state championships, called on some of that experience Friday.
Farson led 24-20 at the half before Kaycee grabbed the lead at 25-24 on senior Nicholas Aragon’s 3-pointer. After the Pronghorns retook the lead the Buckaroos took the lead for good thanks to a fastbreak basket from senior Danny Ramirez and two put-back from senior Mark Largent.
“This senior group works so well together,” Kaycee head coach Jason Humble said. “They work hard and tonight we finally got the monkey off our backs.”
The monkey Humble is referring to is that Kaycee, which had advanced to the semifinals each of the past six years, hadn’t made an appearance in the state championship game since 2003. The Buckaroos haven’t won it all since 1999.
Saturday, they’ll be facing a Burlington team that has won 16 consecutive state tournament games and showed Friday it won’t go down easy.
“We’re going to have to find a way to outwork Burlington,” Humble said. “We just have to be confident that we can get it done.”