by KEVIN THOMPSON

sports@gctelegram.com

L AKIN Wednesday was Dylan Shalberg's 18th birthday. Thursday, the Lakin standout got a big present, as the Broncs knocked off rival Holcomb 72-68 in the 3A sub-state semifinal on their home court. The win earns the Broncs a spot in the title game Saturday against Southwestern Heights.

The 6-foot-3 senior made the most of the day by leading his team with 25 points, nine assists and three blocked shots as the Broncs held off a resilient Longhorn team.

Lakin led only 9-6 after the first quarter, then took a 29-21 halftime lead. They needed all of that eight-point lead, too.

Both teams scorched the nets with 24 points each in the third quarter. Mitchell Gaede had 10 points for Holcomb that period, and Lakin spread theirs around all five starters.

But it was the fourth quarter that provided the fireworks.

Lakin opened a 10-point lead right away on a Shalberg bucket. Holcomb, though, chipped away at the lead, getting it down to seven at the 5:15 mark after a loose ball found its way into Gaede's hand, who then knocked down a three.

At 1:33, Gaede hit another three to cut the lead to six. A few seconds later Lakin turned it over and Gaede hit another basket to get Holcomb within four at 66-62.

After Alex Jones hit a free throw, Brady Merz got a tip-in basket with 51 seconds remaining and Holcomb was within two. Two seconds later, Merz fouled out and Bryant Miller hit two free throws, and Lakin was up 69-65.

After a Lakin timeout, Logan Singhisen put back his own miss to close the gap to two again with 33 seconds left.

Shalberg was fouled in the backcourt with 27 seconds left and sank both free shots. Singhisen hit one of his own with 22 seconds left to pull within 71-68.

On the ensuing in-bounds play, Holcomb trapped Miller in the corner and forced a turnover. Singhisen got the ball to Gaede, who missed the three. Singhisen got the rebound and kicked it back out to Gaede again, and again a miss.

In the scramble for the loose ball, Shalberg was fouled, hit one free throw with 4.9 seconds left and sealed the win.

"It's awesome," Shalberg said. "It's awesome beating our biggest rival twice in the same season," referring to the January 5 home win over Holcomb, handing the Longhorns their first league loss in four years.

For Holcomb's Gaede, the loss was bittersweet. The senior hated to end the season, but he said he was proud of how his team played.

"It's the end of the year, we were down double digits and we needed someone to step up," he said. "Coach looked at me in the locker room (at halftime) and said I needed to step up. When that first shot went in (in the third quarter), I knew I had to get us back into position to win."

The loss was especially tough on the seniors, Gaede said.

"We didn't know how bad (not going) would feel. But at the end of the day we played our hardest and that's all you can ask for," he reflected.

Holcomb coach Scott Stegman had nothing but praise for the Lakin squad.

"We knew Lakin was going to come to play and they shot the ball well," Stegman said. "They played defense. They got their hands on loose balls. They played hard. Hats off to them; they played a tremendous game."

Stegman was equally proud of his Longhorns' efforts, even in the loss.

"I'm very, very proud of our boys," Stegman said. "They stuck in there, they found a way to fight back, and we had two great looks at it in the end. If we could have got one of those to fall, who knows?"

For Lakin, Saturday brings a rematch of the first game of the season when Heights won on the same floor, the only team to beat Lakin at home.

"It's going to have to be the attitude again," he said. "We're going to tell the boys, we're not going to let them do that (win on Lakin's home court) again. We're going to have to have fight."

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Lakin 72, Holcomb 68

LAKIN (14-8) Jones 4 2-5 11, Shalberg 9 6-9 25, Miller 4 2-2 12, Reed 4 2-4 10, Hamel 7 0-0 14. Totals 28 12-20 72.

HOLCOMB (15-7) Singhisen 6 2-4 15, Merz 2 2-3 6, Robinson 1 3-4 5, M. Gaede 10 0-0 22, N. Gaede 1 1-2 3, Walck 1 1-1 3, DeLaRosa 3 1-2 7, VanCampen 3 1-2 7. Totals 27 11-18 68.

Lakin 9 20 24 19 72

Holcomb 6 15 24 23 68

3-Point goals Lakin 4 (Jones 1, Shalberg 1, Miller 2); Holcomb 3 (Singhisen 1, M. Gaede 2).