Mullen advanced past Paxton with a 45-42 win on Thursday in the D2-10 Sub-District Final, after a wild final quarter at St. Pat’s in North Platte.
It was the third time the two teams have met in a sub-district final in the past three years, with Paxton winning the previous two matchups.
“One more step to getting down to Lincoln,” Broncos guard Lance Moore said. “That’s been our goal from day one. We’re one step closer.”
Moore hits four free-throws in a row to give Mullen a four-point 43-39 lead with 37 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Justin Corfield responded for the Tigers with a 3-pointer with 29 seconds remaining to pull within one at 43-42.
Chance Morland stole the ball for Paxton with 17 seconds left, but was called for an offensive foul 12 seconds later giving the ball back to Mullen with five seconds.
Emmet Storer and Sam Vinton hit free throws in the closing seconds to seal the win.
“It’s just surreal. We knew our kids could do it,” Mullen head coach Rusty Moore said. “I just feel weird right now, because I have so much respect for Paxton. I feel bad for their kids, but I feel so happy for my kids. They’ve worked so hard for this.”
That last step to the state tournament for Mullen is Anselmo-Merna. The Coyotes topped Sumner-Eddyville-Miller 43-40 on Thursday in the D2-9 Sub-District Final and the two teams meet on Tuesday in the D2-4 District Final. The site will be announced today.
The Broncos opened up on fire on Thursday, hitting a pair of 3-pointers to help them to a 10-2 lead midway through the first quarter. Mullen pushed the pace and the lead to 14 midway through the second at 25-11.
“I told the boys before the game, the first team that settles down the quickest, is going to have a huge advantage,” Rusty Moore said. “I thought when we came out and hit those shots early, ‘Thank goodness. Thank goodness.’”
However, that’s when the Tigers began to chip away. Paxton narrowed the lead to 9 at the halftime break at 27-18 and then went on a 7-0 run to start the second half to pull within two.
“They do it every time. For the last seven times we’ve played them,” Rusty Moore said. “Last year [in the sub-district final] they made a huge run in the third and took the lead from us and then we fought back. Every game, that’s what they do.”
The two teams would trade baskets and runs throughout the rest of the third and the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. Paxton tied the game for the first time at 36-36 on a layup by Morland with 3:31 to play, though Paxton never did take a lead in the game.
“Mullen shot the ball really good in the first quarter. We played great defense in the fourth quarter,” Paxton head coach Jody Rhodes said. “We had a lot of opportunities to put that game away and it didn’t happen for us. I’m proud of my team. Best of luck to Mullen.”
Morland would tie the game again with an old-fashioned 3-point play with 2:24 remaining, but Moore would go 4-of-4 from the line in the final two minutes.
“Their crowd is going crazy. It’s just pressure free throws,” he said. “We practice them every day to win the state championship, Dad [coach Rusty Moore] says, and I put them in.”
Moore had a game-high 20 points for Mullen — nine of which came in the fourth quarter. Morland had 17 to lead Paxton. Paxton guard Ryan Fox was the only other player in double figures with 13.
“The emotions are extremely high,” Broncos guard Lance Moore said. “They came in high energy and we came in high energy. They wanted to beat us and we haven’t beat these guys in the [sub-district] final. The emotions are extremely high. On to the next one, I guess.”