Wildcats win thriller over visiting Rangers

With only five seconds left in last Friday evening’s Custer vs. Hill City basketball game, Ranger senior Jairo Escobar corralled a teammate’s miss and put the ball in for two over the outstretched arms of two Wildcat defenders.
Unfortunately for Escobar and the Rangers, Hill City was down three points.
The clock expired as the ball fell through the net to the ground, setting off a raucous celebration in the Armory as the Wildcats held on for a 66-65 win in a game that saw lead change after lead change between what on this night was two evenly-matched teams.
The largest lead of the game at any point was six points and the Armory crowd was as electric as it has been for any game in recent memory as the teams separated by only 12 miles of highway slugged it out for 32 minutes.
“It was a fun atmosphere. We know going in that Hill City was going to bring a crowd. They have had success and are off to a good start,” head coach Paul Kelley said. “It turned out to be a pretty good game.”
Custer found itself down to start the fourth quarter after Hill City’s Erick Jorgensen corralled the ball off a scramble and dunked it home, but the Wildcats answered when Cade Lehman buried a three-pointer to tie the score at 50.
Custer would soon thereafter build up its biggest lead of the game, aided by a Kyle Virtue steal and nimble dribbling through traffic through a basket on which he was slammed to the ground but managed to make the basket for a 56-51 lead.
The Wildcats went up six points with 2:40 left in the game via two Rhett Lowe free throws, and maintained that lead after a Virtue hook shot moments later.
It appeared the game may have been out of reach for the Rangers after Virtue drove to the hoop for two more and a 63-56 lead at the 1:51 mark, but Alex Stoeckman answered for Hill City by burying a three-pointer off a designed play to cut the Wildcat lead to 63-59.
Escobar cut the Wildcat lead to two with two free throws at the 1:11 mark as the Wildcats endured two empty possessions after taking the 63-56 lead, one ending in a turnover and the other in a blocked shot by Jorgensen, who bothered the Wildcats all night—including on potential fast break baskets—with his length and shot-blocking ability.
“I thought our kids did a good job of attacking the rim, but when you have a 6-7 guy waiting back there it makes it tough,” Kelley said. “We were just unable to finish. When you’re not getting the calls you need to find another way.”
The Rangers tied the game at 63-63 with 36 seconds left on a pair of Devin Buehler free throws, which were answered by a Lowe free throw to give Custer a one-point lead.
On the Rangers’ next possession it appeared Buehler had shaken his defender and was headed to the hoop but a poke at the ball by the Wildcats caused the ball to bounce off Buehler’s leg and out of bounds, awarding possession back to Custer.
Lowe was fouled immediately after Custer got the ball inbounds. This time he made both free throws to put Custer up 66-63 with 12 seconds left. Lowe made five of six free throws down the stretch to help seal the vicotry.
On the Rangers’ final possession Hill City got the ball to Jorgensen, who missed a three-pointer that was rebounded by Escobar, which then led to his last-second basket as the clock expired in the Wildcat win.
“We did a good job contesting (Jorgensen’s shot),” Kelley said. “We told the kids if they get it inside and go up don’t inbound the ball.”
The fourth quarter was a microcosm of the entire game, as the two teams were tied 28-28 at the end of the second quarter and Custer led by one at the end of the third quarter after a Carter Boyster three-pointer. At one point in the third quarter the Rangers went on a 10-2 run to take a 46-39 lead, their largest lead of the game.
“Defensive breakdowns allowed them to get easy baskets. We had 19 turnovers in that game. We made dumb passes, dribbled into double teams. Once we got a lead I thought we would roll, but we got lackadaisical,” Kelley said. “It comes down to little things, and they end up hurting you when you’re not doing them consistenly. Give Hill City credit. They never backed down.”
Kelley also praised the play of Brady Virtue, a freshman guard who helped close out the game.
“Brady is someone we trust. He has a good head on him and knows the game,” he said. “Brady is one of the few kids who knows every position on our offense. He will do those little things that need to be done.”
Lowe led the Wildcats with a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds in the win, and was joined in double-figure points by Kyle Virtue, Boyster and Lehman (14 points each).
The Wildcats don’t take to the court again (they did play Jan. 24) until next Tuesday, when they head to Box Elder for a matchup with the Douglas Patriots. The varsity game is scheduled for a late 8 p.m. tip.
The Patriots have struggled to a 1-9 record on the season, although a lot of those games have been against Class AA competition.
“It’s always tough to play at Douglas,” Kelley said. “We just have to keep progressing and hopefully we can walk away with a win.”
Custer    17    11    19    19    —66
HC    14    14    18    19    —65
Custer—Cade Lehman 5-14 2-4 14, Brady Virtue 2-3 0-5 5, Rhett Lowe 5-13 5-6 16, Cody Dirkes 0-1 0-0 0, Drew Lehman 0-1 1-2 1, Gage Grohs 1-6 0-0 2, Kyle Virtue 7-14 0-1 14, Carter Boyster 6-13 0-0 14. Totals: 26-65 8-17 66.
Hill City—Everett Sullivan 4-8 1-2 9, Devin Buehler 4-13 4-6 12, Jairo Escobar 2-2 2-2 6, Alex Stoeckmann 5-11 0-0 12, Erick Jorgensen 11-23 0-0 24, CJ Stoeckmann 1-1 0-1 2. Totals: 27-58 7-11 65.
Three-point goals: Custer 6 (Boyster 2, Lehman 2, B. Virtue, Lowe), HC 4 (Stoeckmann 2, Jorgensen 2). Rebounding: Custer 32 (Lowe 10), HC 32 (Jorgensen 13). Assists: Custer 11, HC 3. Steals: Custer 9, HC 8. Turnovers: Custer 14, HC 19. Total fouls: Custer 15, HC 17. Fouled out: Stoeckmann, Lehman.

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