It took a long time and a big comeback, but the Newton High School boys’ basketball team is headed for the sub-state finals for the first time in years.
A 30-14 fourth quarter led the Railers to a 67-62 win over Valley Center Thursday at Ravenscroft Gym.
Valley Center’s Tyler Brown, among the state’s leading scorers, did his best LeBron James imitation with 37 points. The Railers countered with four in double figures.
“We just had more intensity,” said Newton freshman Ty Berry, who led the Railers with 19, 12 in the fourth quarter. “We just wanted it more. We didn’t back down. We fought to the end. That’s all we could do. We missed some shots, but we hit them when we needed to.”
“We played our game,” added senior Nathan Ahrens, who scored 16 points, nine in the fourth quarter. “We just missed some shots early, but we’re shooters, so we’re going to keep shooting.”
“(Brown) can get all the points he wants, the win was all that mattered to us,” said senior C’Anthony Kelley, who paced the Railers on rebounding and defense, adding six points. “I did what I needed to do for the team.”
Junior guard Cailen Valdez scored 14 points, nine in the second half. Sophomore post Damarius Peterson scored 10 points, eight in the first half.
Joe Petrakis added 14 points for Valley Center, 12 in the first half. Three other players combined for 11 points for the 7-14 Hornets, who have no seniors listed on the roster.
“They just keep believing and stay confident,” Newton coach Andy Hill said. “They started playing with more energy and started hitting more shots. When we started out, our energy was low — the first 2 1/2 quarters, for whatever reason. I didn’t do much coaching in the fourth quarter. I just told them to play tough and play hard. We knew we wouldn’t have any one person outscore Brown. He’s too good of a player. We thought we’d have a little more balance than them, and it turned out that way.”
Newton avenges a 72-66 loss to the Hornets back in December. Brown scored 50 points in that game.
“We’ve gotten better all the way around,” Hill said. “We’ve come to work every day.”
After an 0-6 start, Newton improves to 9-12. The Railers have won six of the last eight with both losses to state-ranked teams.
The Railers finished the game 20 of 46 from the field, six of 10 in the fourth quarter. Valley Center was 22 of 48 shooting, three of eight in the fourth quarter. Newton was 22 of 27 from the free throw line. Valley Center was 13 of 14 from the line.
Newton jumped out to a 9-4 lead, but gave up an 8-2 run. A Kelley jumper with 33 seconds left in the period put Newton ahead 13-12.
Brown hit a pair of 3-pointers early in the second quarter to spark a 10-2 Valley Center run. Newton trailed by as many as nine in the period, but was able to get within four. A Petrakis layup with 37 seconds left in the first half put the Hornets back up by six at intermission, 30-24.
Valley Center finished the first half with two turnovers. Newton had seven turnovers, five in the second quarter.
Newton fell behind by as many as 14 in the third quarter. A Valdez trey with 30 seconds remaining in the period got Newton to within 11, 48-37.
A Berry trey and a Ahrens layup got Newton within six at the start of the fourth quarter. After a turnover, Ahrens hit two free throws. A defensive stop set up a Berry layup.
Newton missed a chance to tie to take the lead on the following possession. Brown hit one of two free throws to put the Hornets back up by three with 4:54 in regulation. Berry countered with two free throws seven seconds later.
Kelley put Newton up with two free throws with 4:33 in regulation. Brown hit two free throws seven seconds later.
After several lead changes, Berry hit a trey with 2:55 left to put Newton up by two. Newton followed with free throws by Kelley and Valdez to go up by six with 1:38 in regulation. Brown broke the run with two free throws with 1:21 in regulation.
A blocked shot by Petrakis set up two free throws for Zach Williams. Berry hit two free throws with 36.1 seconds in regulation. Valley Center turned the ball over four seconds later, setting up one of two Valdez free throws. After two Brown free throws, Ahrens hit two free throws with 12.3 seconds in regulation.
“This is humbling for all of us,” Hill said. “It just is. Tonight, I just came along for the ride. I told them at the time out to speed the tempo up a little defensively, put more pressure on them. We were playing too cautiously.”
Newton faces Salina Central at 6 p.m. Saturday in the sub-state finals in Salina. Central is 19-2 after a 58-41 win over Emporia Thursday. Newton and Central split their regular-season series.
“We’re going to come here tomorrow and we’re going to work,” Berry said. “We’re going to come get them Saturday.”
“Whoever we get, we’re going to be ready to play,” Ahrens added.
VALLEY CENTER (7-14) — Brown 7 (4) 11-12 3, 37; Pearson 1 0-0 5, 2; Coash 0 0-0 2, 0; Flora 0 0-0 3, 0; Lange 2 (1) 0-0 1, 7; Byrne 0 0-0 0, 0; Willials 0 2-2 4, 2; Petrakis 7 0-0 3, 14; TOTALS 17 (5) 13-14 21, 62.
NEWTON (9-12) — Kelley 1 4-4 2, 6; Lawrence 1 0-0 0, 2; Valdez 2 (2) 4-6 3, 14; Ahrens 4 (1) 5-5 3, 16; Berry 4 (2) 5-6 1, 19; Schroeder 0 0-0 0, 0; Peterson 3 4-6 3, 10; TOTALS 15 (5) 22-27 12, 67.