By BRETT MARSHALL
HUTCHINSON — There wasn't going to be any denying the Scott City Beavers a return visit to the Class 3A state boys championship game.
Not even a nagging hip injury to Brett O'Neil that kept him out of the starting lineup.
Not a bloodied nose to Drew Kite late in the second quarter.
Nope. Not on this night at the Hutchinson Sports Arena. The Beavers (24-1) would not be denied.
As a result of their workmanlike 64-49 semifinal victory over Rock Creek (20-5) on Friday night, the Beavers will get a chance to defend, and perhaps repeat their 2011 state championship.
The championship boys game tips off at 6:15 p.m. following the girls title game at 4 p.m. between Burlington and Silver Lake. Rock Creek and Central Heights will play for third place at 2 p.m. Nemaha Valley rallied for a 50-47 win over Central Heights.
With the older of the O'Neil sons not on the court at the game's outset, it was left to younger brother Trey to step into the starting spot, and he made the game's first basket.
"I thought we got a good jump on them, managed to get a run to get a semi-comfortable lead and then another run to finally get it put away," said Scott City head coach Glenn O'Neil. "It hasn't sunk in that we're back in the championship game. It's always a dream to get there and we're excited to be back."
For the elder son, Brett O'Neil, his hip flexor seemed to have improved from when he was sent to the floor in the second half of their 72-63 opening game victory over Beloit.
"I had some great treatments from the medical people and it felt a lot better today," said Brett O'Neil, who finished with 13 points for the Beavers. "It was a hard-fought game. They never gave up. They get after you and we had to get after them."
Several times the Beavers looked as though they were going to run off and hide from the Mustangs, but the gritty Rock Creek squad just wouldn't go away.
"They battled for every rebound, challenged everything," said Kite, who fashioned his second-straight double-double at the state tourney with 18 points and 11 rebounds. "I think getting hit in the mouth kind of made me more ready when I came back in. It really sparked me when I was able to come back in."
After owning a 32-20 halftime bulge, the Beavers went on a 6-2 streak at the outset of the third to move into what appeared a commanding 38-22 lead. Rock Creek, though, didn't fold. The Mustangs got a pair of 3-pointers from KJ Dobbins and Jacob Miller, and another basket by Miller to trim the deficit to 39-33.
The teams battled the rest of the quarter before Scott City finished with a 47-38 lead heading to the fourth. Rock Creek hit the opening basket to make it a seven point game, 47-40, but then a 10-4 hit by the Beavers produced some breathing space, making it 57-44 with four minutes left.
From there, the lead expanded to as much as 16 before the Beavers finished with the final 15-point spread.
"I thought we played pretty well tonight," said coach O'Neil. "I thought our defense set up our offense to give us those small runs tonight. It's just the way we've been all year — everyone contributed. It's been a total team effort all the way."
In addition to Kite and Brett O'Neil in double figures, forward Joey Meyer added 11 points — including a rim-rattling slam dunk in the early fourth-quarter that ignited the final run by the Beavers.
"We had to work in different ways to score tonight," Kite said. "I had to post-up more than normal, but they got the ball to me and I just went hard to the basket."
Kite's effort came on 6-of-8 field goals and 6-of-9 free throws.
Rock Creek's two big scorers — Dobbins and Miller — finished with 16 and 15 points, respectively as no other Mustang scored more than four points. Braeden Robinson added nine, Trey O'Neil seven and Austin Habiger six for the Beavers.
The Beavers hit 51 percent of their field goals, knocking down 25-of-49, while Rock Creek made 20-of-50 for 40 percent.
Scott City went on one of its patented runs just three minutes into the game, when after the score was tied at 4, they hit an 11-0 spree and finished the quarter up 17-8.
The Beavers would extend the lead to 25-11 thanks to a pair of rim-rattling 3-pointers from reserve Austin Habiger, who continues to feel right at home from behind the arc in the spacious arena. He had nailed four treys in Wednesday's tourney-opening win over Beloit.
The Mustangs would get no closer than nine the rest of the second period and the Beavers went into the locker room up 32-20 at half.
Balance was again a big factor in the first half as six different players scored.
In the early boys semifinal, No. 2-seeded Nemaha Valley came from a 10-point halftime deficit to eke out a 50-47 victory over Central Heights.
The Raiders (23-2) trailed 29-19 but then went on a 15-10 third-quarter spree to close the gap to 39-34 at the end of the third period.
Central Heights (21-4) still led until the final 1:30 when Nemaha Valley took the lead for good and then hung on at the end, getting a block shot by Creighton Brinker with just 3 seconds left on the clock.
The Vikings will play in the third-place game at 2 p.m. today.
In the two girls semifinals, Burlington, which had eliminated Holcomb on Thursday, continued its march with a 52-38 victory over Hillsboro while Silver Lake beat Atchison County 56-46. The two winners will meet in today's 4 p.m. championship tilt while the losers were to play at noon for third place.
Rock Creek 8 12 17 12 -- 49
Scott City 17 15 15 17 -- 64
Rock Creek (20-5) — Miner 0-1 2-2 2, Dobbins 7-12 1-1 16, Srna 0-4 0-0 0, Johnston 0-6 1-2 1, Adams 1-2 1-4 3, Parker 2-2 0-1 4, Schmitz 0-1 0-0 0, Schneider 0-3 0-0 0, Kuecker 2-7 0-0 4, Miller 7-9 0-0 15. Totals 20-50 7-12 49.
Scott City (24-1) — B. O'Neil 6-15 0-0 13, T. O'Neil 2-6 3-4 7, Robinson 4-6 0-0 9, Clinton 0-0 0-0 0, Hess 0-1 0-2 0, Habiger 2-3 0-0 6, Wilson 0-0 0-0 0, Meyer 5-10 1-1 11, Kite 6-8 6-9 18. Totals 25-49 10-16 64.
3-point goals--Rock Creek 2-14 (Dobbins 1-3, Srna 0-3, Johnston 0-4, Schmitz 0-1, Schneider 0-2, Miller 1-1), Scott City 4-13 (B. O'Neil 1-4, T. O'Neil 0-3, Robinson 1-2, Hess 0-1, Habiger 2-3). Rebounds--Rock Creek 31 (Miller 10), Scott City 29 (Kite 11). Fouls--Rock Creek 13, Scott City 15. Fouled out--none. Assists--Rock Creek 10 (Miner 4), Scott City 16 (Robinson 5). Turnovers--Rock Creek 17, Scott City 13. Blocked shots--Rock Creek 0, Scott City 4 (B. O'Neil, Robinson, Meyer, Kite 1 each). Steals--Rock Creek 7 (Roberts 2), Scott City 12 (T. O'Neil, Hess 3 each).