Lincoln County High boys basketball fell just short in their first state tournament game since 2013, losing to Incline by two points, 67-65.
Coach Sean FitzSimons said, “It’s very unfortunate how it ended up. I think we got down early in that first quarter, which didn’t help, but I think the boys showed great resolve in coming back.”
Lincoln had a shaky start. Sophomore Matt Hafen dropped a 3-pointer trying to catch up to Incline, who had already landed a few points. Sophomore Cody Zile rebounded and put up a layup shortly after, but Lincoln failed to score the rest of the quarter.
The second quarter was a complete turnaround for the Lynx. Hafen and fellow sophomores Kobe Kelley and Talon Phillips took turns driving the ball in and upping Incline’s foul count. Nearing halftime, Incline was in foul trouble and Lincoln shot at the line for almost every attempt to score. To finish off Lincoln’s 25-point quarter, Kelley handed the ball off to Zile for a layup right before the buzzer.
Lincoln cut the lead by eight points and started the second half down, 30-35. A few minutes in, Hafen hit a 3-pointer and tied it up. Zile put in a layup to give Lincoln the edge. The third quarter ended with Lincoln in the lead, 48-47.
Then Incline gained the edge back and Lincoln had to play catch up. Running out of time, Lincoln was forced into foul trouble. Incline made a few too many foul shots, leaving Lincoln behind by four points with just a few seconds left in the fourth quarter. Hafen threw up a desperate but miraculous jump shot and drained it, also getting fouled on the play. With one foul shot and two points to go, Incline ended up with the rebound and won.
“I think that coming back expended so much energy, there wasn’t much in the tank down the stretch,” FitzSimons said. “But it was just like a microcosm of our season because of the fact that our kids fought until the final second of the game. I thought that was great and couldn’t ask for anything more. In the end, we didn’t play a solid four quarters to win the game outright, but we definitely still had a chance. My coaching philosophy is just be a team player, be coachable and don’t quit. Battle it out. And that’s what we got out of these kids. I was proud of us, but that slow start in the first quarter proved to be our Achilles heel.”
Hafen scored 24 points, Zile followed with 23, and Noah Smith had nine.
FitzSimons said, “We had five guys that were averaging double digits in league games. I think that’s a testament to what our team concept was. At any given night it could be any guy that showed up and is hot, if you will. They were all great, and I hope this is kind of springboarding us into the summer.”
Lincoln County (19-9, 12-2) had a successful season, falling just short of a state championship game.
“I thought it was a successful season, not just by wins and losses, but a season where we had seniors who helped get us where we want to be. And we also had a bunch of young guys step up, and they will help build this program back to where it needs to be. Obviously, the wins and losses help. We were 8-18 last year and 19-9 this year. That was definitely an improvement and a testament to the kids buying in and our coaching staff. Great group of kids to coach; fun to coach. I’m definitely going to miss our seniors. I’m proud of all of them. Overall, it was a pretty fun and successful season. We’re just hoping to get back there next year and finish the job,” FitzSimons concluded.