AURORA — Fullerton didn’t look like a young team playing in Tuesday’s Class D-1, District 4 final.
That was especially true for the youngest starter in a lineup that also includes three juniors and a sophomore — freshman point guard Cole Horacek.
Horacek scored a team-high 18 points, and Fullerton rode a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter to a 74-64 victory over No. 6-rated Heartland.
The Warriors advance to the state tournament for the 19th time and first since 2014.
“We were looking to go to state the whole year,” said Horacek, who was 5-for-7 from the floor. “This is a big moment.”
It was a game of runs from two potent offenses that combined to put up 47 points in the fourth quarter and 40 in the second.
Fullerton (20-4) came up with the biggest run. Trailing 46-45 entering the fourth, the Warriors scored nine unanswered points from four players to go up 54-46 while holding Heartland scoreless for the first 2:59.
Fullerton coach Richard Plumbtree said his team’s depth paid off. The Warriors played 11 and often subbed in five players at a time.
“(The 9-0 run) was huge because I told the boys we play 10, 12 guys,” Plumbtree said. “We just go deep as we can, and we pushed them for three quarters. Then we finish with our strong five.”
Lane Huebert scored 12 of his game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter for the Huskies, who will also advance to the state tournament as a wild card. But they never could get closer than five points after Fullerton’s fourth-quarter run.
“They came out (in the first quarter) hot and were hitting shots,” Heartland coach Clark Ribble said. “We kind of made a push in the second quarter, then they made a push in th third and it was a one-point game going into the fourth.
“They just made shots down the stretch. They did a good job making free throws. They did a great job getting offensive rebounds in the second half. They just played better than us tonight.”
Ribble said Fullerton’s depth was a factor.
“They were able to send waves of kids in and didn’t really have to worry about foul trouble,” he said. “When you have that type of depth, it’s hard to prepare for, but it also allows them to be very aggressive on defense.”
Fullerton’s lone senior, Riggs Patton, came off the bench and produced nine points.
“This is amazing. We worked so hard for this moment,” Patton said. “Every day in practice before this game it was defense, defense, defense. That’s all we worried about, and that’s what got us the win tonight.”
Huebert was the focus of that defense. He was held without a shot in the first quarter and was 7-for-17 from the floor overall.
“We just said one guy was going to guard him the whole game,” Patton said. “We knew he was going to make some shots because he’s that good of a player. We just stopped him enough.”
Plumbtree said: “He’s a great player. He’s still going to get his points. and I told them that he’s going to get his points. (Jaden Regier) is a great outside shooter, too, so we had to key on those two.”
Connor Boehr added 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Huskies, who also received 11 points off the bench from Aaron Buller.
Fullerton went 13-for-19 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter to ice the win. That included a 5-for-6 performance from Horacek.
“He’s a solid player, and he doesn’t like making mistakes,” Plumbtree said. “But he’s clutch down the stretch. We have to have the ball in the freshman’s hands and the sophomore’s (Brandon Rasmussen) hands. Those two guys can finish around the rim and they can shoot free throws all day.”
Rasmussen finished with 14 points, Ryan Hellbusch had 13 and Brent Wetovick 12. The other starter, TJ Dubas, contributed 10 rebounds and four assists.
Celebrating a district championship was a special moment for a special team, Plumbtree said.
“These guys’ hearts are huge,” he said. “They go out on the floor and it’s all of them. It doesn’t matter if it’s the top five or the top 12 or the top 14. Everybody goes out there and gives their whole heart all the time.”
Unofficially, Fullerton will face No. 1 Kenesaw — the only undefeated team left in the state — March 8 at 3:45 p.m. at Lincoln Northeast to open the state tournament.
Heartland likely draws No. 4-rated Osmond in the preceding game at 2 p.m.
HEARTLAND (20-3): Hayes Oswald 1-7 0-0 3, Lane Huebert 7-17 8-12 24, Jaden Regier 1-10 0-0 2, Kyle Ott 3-6 0-2 6, Connor Boehr 7-9 4-7 18, Aaron Buller 4-10 3-5 11, Jackson Stebbing 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-59 15-26 64.
FULLERTON (20-4): Cole Horacek 5-7 5-6 18, TJ Dubas 2-8 1-4 5, Brent Wetovick 5-7 2-4 12, Brandon Rasmussen 4-13 3-5 14, Ryan Hellbusch 5-6 3-3 13, Kyle Knopik 0-1 0-0 0, James Lesiak 0-1 0-0 0, Elijah Norman 0-1 0-0 0, riggs Patton 3-6 2-3 9, Tresden Gonsior 0-0 0-0 0, Isaac Gleason 1-4 1-2 3. Totals 25-54 17-27 74.
Heartland..........13 23 10 18—64
Fullerton............15 17 13 29—74
3-point field goals—Heartland 3-18 (Oswald 1-4, Huebert 2-5, Regier 0-7, Ott 0-2). Fullerton 6-18 (Horacek 3-4, Dubas 0-1, Wetovick 0-1, Rasmussen 2-9, Knopik 0-1, Patton 1-2). Fouled out—Ott. Rebounds—Heartland 37 (Boehr 11), Fullerton 38 (Dubas 10).. Assists—Heartland 10 (Ott 3), Fullerton 14 (Dubas, Wetovick 4). Turnovers—Heartland 9, Fullerton 9. Total fouls—Heartland 20, Fullerton 19. Technicals—none.