By NICK McQUEEN
Special to The Telegram
HAYS — Down by 16 points with 4 minutes, 55 seconds to go in the third quarter of Thursday's first-round Class 1A-Division II state tournament game at Gross Memorial Coliseum, many teams might have just cashed it in.
But, when the sixth-seeded Dighton High School boys' basketball team found a little fire, the Hornets ran with it. They nearly pulled off an improbable comeback against No. 3 seed White City.
When all ways said and done, though, a 17-0 comeback run to take a lead was not enough, as White City escaped with a 48-39 victory to move into today's 8:15 p.m. semifinal game against Axtell.
"After not being able to hit anything at all in the first half, I think we found a hot streak," Dighton coach Earl Steffens said. "That's usually what we do a little more consistently than we did today."
He was right about the first half. The Hornets couldn't buy a bucket.
Dighton fell into a 4-0 hole to start the game, and scored its first points at the 5:36 mark on a three from junior Ryan Horn to make it 4-3. Then, White City started to pull away with a 6-0 run to make it 10-3. In that span, White City senior Jaren Nittler scored on back-to-back putbacks.
Dighton, though, got a pair of steals and layups to pull back within 10-7 with back-to-back buckets by senior Ryan Kuhlman and junior Isaac Alinor.
The Huskies mounted a solid end to the quarter, and start to the second, with three straight 3-pointers to take a 16-7 lead. Then, the Hornets were outscored 9-6 in the second quarter, and White City took a 25-13 lead into the locker room. The Huskies led by double digits for a little more than half of the second quarter.
"You have to give them credit," Steffens said. "They were in our face and did a nice job, and (junior guard/forward Sam Morgan) is every bit the ball player he is built up to be."
Led by Morgan, one of three Huskies to finish with 12 points, White City (20-3) built up a 36-20 lead after a Morgan steal and lay-up. Then, after Allinor hit a pair of free throws, Hornets junior Matthew Mulville went to work.
He connected on three straight 3-pointers to end the third quarter to pull Dighton within 36-31. Then, to start the fourth, Horn joined in, nailing one from downtown. But the Hornets weren't done. Mulville knocked in a fifth straight for Dighton and a 37-36 lead.
"We've had some nice comebacks," Steffens said. "Our best was probably against La Crosse — outscored them 12-0 and we won.
"But, that's just the way it goes," he added. "Wasn't enough here."
White City regained the lead about two minutes later when Morgan hit his third three of the game. The Huskies never trailed again, and used free throws to regain the momentum. Dighton's only two points after that were on a put-back by Mulville with 2:00 to go.
Kuhlman, Dighton's leading scorer who posted more than 1,000 points in his four-year career, was contained to just four for the Hornets. Allinor scored six. Mulville ended the night with a game-high 15.
"Probably more their defense," Steffens said of White City. "They were just a tough defensive team."
The Hornets graduate three seniors in Kuhlman, Trevor Bollinger and Dirk Torson.
"What a good group of seniors," Steffens said. "It's just a shame we couldn't go on to another game.
"But, give these guys credit," he added. "We haven't been here since 1994, so what a great step in the right direction."
Dighton 7 6 21 5 -- 39
White City 16 9 11 12 -- 48
DIGHTON (16-8) — Matthew Mulville 5-10 0-0 15, Horn 2-7 0-0 6, Kuhlman 2-9 0-2 4, Torson 0-4 2-2 2, Allinor 2-7 2-2 6, Barnett 3-4 0-0 6. Totals — 14-41 4-6 39.
WHITE CITY (20-3) — Sam Morgan 4-6 1-2 12, Beavers 1-4 0-0 2, Jaren Nittler 24-12 4-5 12, Dustin Ash 4-6 2-2 12, Egger 2-6 2-2 6, Blythe 1-2 2-2 4, Comp 0-3 2-2 0. Totals — 16-39 11-15 48
3-point goals — Dighton 7-21 (Horn 2-5, Kuhlman 0-5, Mulville 5-7, Alinor 0-4); White City 5-9 (Morgan 3-4, Nittler 0-2, Ash 2-2, Comp 0-1). Total fouls — Dighton 17, White City 11. Fouled out — Egger, White City.
Rebounds — Dighton 17 (Alinor 5); White City 29 (Morgan 8). Turnovers — Dighton 12, White City 14.