It was a comeback a year in the making.
The Western Christian Pioneers and Columbia Christian Knights boys are no strangers. They'd met before, almost a year ago to the day on the 2A state championship court, where the Knights edged out the Pioneers for the title by just four points.
On Saturday, Western Christian — formerly Western Mennonite — got what they've been fighting for over the past two seasons: a 61-48 victory over Columbia Christian and the 2A state championship trophy.
"This is awesome, awesome, awesome," said Pioneers coach Gary Hull after the win. "We still felt the pain of last year, and that makes it even sweeter to get another chance at 'em."
The score tied twice in the first quarter before the Knights claimed it by just two points. Ben Gregg, a 6-foot-8 sophomore guard, strung together a six-point streak, and use his height to nab nine rebounds from the Pioneers over the course of the game.
A lay-up from senior guard Keaton Hull and a jumper from junior guard Payton Richardson put the Pioneers out front for good, but it would be a while before the Knights let them out of their sight.
A dunk from Knights sophomore guard Elijah Munyan cut their deficit to just four points, 32-28, at halftime.
"That was the worst night of my life," Richardson said of last year's championship loss. "This time, what we needed to do was to get out there, get loose, and have fun. That helped us execute really well."
Junior guard Isiah Mariscal pushed the Knights out front twice with a pair of 3-pointers in quarter three, and although the Pioneers responded with two 3-pointers from junior guard Alex Nicoli, they led by just three going into the final quarter.
And it would be the quarter that defined the game.
The Pioneers let loose with an 11-point run, driven by Richardson and Nicoli. Meanwhile, the Knights couldn't manage a single bucket for over seven minutes. Senior guard Dominic Blake's layup with just 0:51 to go would be Columbia's only points for the quarter.
"I'm so happy," Richardson said with wide eyes and an even wider grin. "We spent all year being sad after our last championship game. We've put in so much effort this year. Glory to God, this is amazing."
Richardson poured in a game-high 17 points and nine rebounds to lead the Pioneers (29-1) to the title. Nicoli recorded 15 points and eight rebounds. Mariscal posted 14 points to lead the Knights (29-2).
"I'm proud of this team and all the work they've put in," Hull said. "It was a battle on both ends. Win or lose, I told them that we'd have to play our tails off. I knew they were going to give it everything. Our hearts were so big tonight."