By KEVIN THOMPSON
JETMORE - It's that time of year for the basketball folks in Copeland and Montezuma.
They'll be breaking out those "Good luck at state, Rebels" banners again.
But they might find them a bit worn from overuse.
This will be the sixth straight year they will be using those banners, after the South Gray Rebels won the sub-state title Saturday over host Hodgeman County, 66-42, to advance to the newly-minted state 1A-Division I tournament in Emporia that begins Thursday.
After a tight first quarter that left South Gray with just an 11-9 lead, the Rebels kicked it up a couple of gears to take control of the game, out-scoring the Longhorns 32-23 in the next two quarters before ripping off a 23-10 fourth quarter for the exclamation point.
Though they've played in pressure games before, senior Garrison Hendricks said the packed gym and all the noise amped up everybody early.
Before the game, Applegate said his team was mostly anxious.
But after settling down and focusing in the second quarter, the Rebels took control.
Once on track, it was trademark Rebel basketball on both sides of the ball.
A solid zone defense spread Hodgeman County (15-8) out wide, limiting the Longhorn inside game.
The Rebel offense shot nearly 50 percent in the final three quarters, many on offensive put-backs.
"Hodgeman County is well coached and they play hard. We were just a little deeper off the bench," Applegate said.
A defining moment for the Rebels occurred in the second quarter. After the Longhorns' Gustavo Fierro got a layup and a free throw on Garret Watkins' third foul, the Rebels picked up the intensity.
With the Longhorns leading 17-16 at that point, South Gray went on a 13-4 run over the final three minutes to take a 29-21 halftime lead.
The Rebels came out strong in the third with senior Austin Love scoring his team's first nine points.
South Gray led 43-32 after three, then poured it on in the fourth.
By the time both coaches emptied their benches with 1:50 remaining, the Rebels had increased the lead to 66-38.
Ronald Martens came off the bench and led South Gray (22-1) with 18 points and 11 boards. Love added 17 points and 10 rebounds.
"That second half, we came out with a lot more intensity and played our game. On the defensive end, we played much better," Love said.
Senior Derek Ridenour said playing inside against the Longhorns' 6-5 and 6-3 posts was a bruiser.
"It was physically challenging," he said. "Coach got on us (at the end of the first quarter) about boxing out, so we all came out with our No. 1 priority to box out."
It worked because the Rebels won the battle of the boards 29-11 after that.
South Gray won back-to-back state titles in 2007 and 2008, lost in the first round in 2009, and finished runner-up last year.
And while it might sound clichΓ© to say "South Gray is headed to state," the phrase never gets old.
"This is special for our seniors. But we don't want to just make it. We want to win that first game and go one game at a time," Applegate said.
Hodgeman Co. 9 12 11 10 -- 42
South Gray 11 18 14 23 -- 66
Hodgeman County Fierro 3 1-1 7, Kreger 2 1-2 7, Harms 2 0-0 4, Richardson 1 0-1 2, N. Boger 5 0-2 10, J. Boger 2 3-6 8, Pfannenstiel 1 0-0 2, Briggs 1 0-0 2. Totals 17-46 5-12 42.
South Gray R. Martens 8 2-3 18, Slaven 4 0-0 9, Love 8 1-2 17, Watkins 1 2-2 4, Hendricks 4 1-3 10, Hedlund 0 0-2 0, Holloway 0 2-2 2, Ridenour 2 2-3 6. Totals 27-58 10-18 66.
3-point goals Hodgeman Co. 3-13 (Kreger 2, J. Borger 1), South Gray 2-7 (Slaven 1, Hendricks 1). Rebounds Hodgeman Co. 21 (Fierro 7), South Gray 36 (R. Martens 11, Love 10). Turnovers Hodgeman Co. 14, South Gray 7. Fouls Hodgeman Co. 16, South Gray 15. Fouled out none.