Seventy years in the making: Minatare excited for Indians’ first trip to state basketball tourney since 1945
     2015-03-12      By Terry Gaston    sports@geringcitizen.com
Photo by Roger Holsinger Photography - Minatare’s Yovan Perez drives to the basket as Cody-Kilgore’s Dawson Gourd tries to stop him during the District D2-6 championship game in Hyannis on March 3. Perez ended the night with 12 points as Minatare beat Cody-Kilgore, 61-41. The Minatare boys’ team is stacked with excellent shooters and will bring a well-rounded team with good depth to the Nebraska State Basketball Tournament in Lincoln this week. Minatare will face Paxton this morning (Thursday) at 9 a.m. CT. 
For the first time since the end of World War II, the Minatare boys’ basketball team is going to the state tournament.
Seventy years have elapsed since the Indians made their seventh – and, until this week, their last – appearance in the state basketball tournament.

That changes Thursday morning (today), when the Indians carry a 21-2 record and No. 3 seed into the Class D2 tournament, which they will begin against No. 6 seed Paxton (23-2) at Lincoln Northeast High School. Tipoff in Lincoln is an early 9 a.m. Central Time.
A win today and Minatare will play the winner of today’s first-round meeting between Exeter-Milligan and Wilcox-Hildreth. That semifinal matchup will be Friday at 2 p.m. at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
A semifinal win and the Indians will be playing for a state championship for the first time since 1929, the only other occasion in which Minatare has advanced past the first round at state.

The Class D2 championship game will be at 4:30 p.m. at Pinnacle Bank Arena and televised on NETV. Friday’s semifinal losers will play for third place at 9 a.m. at Lincoln Southeast High School.
Karl Metzger, in his sixth year as principal at Minatare, said he has watched this year’s seniors grow into a strong group of leaders and citizens.

“This senior class is the seventh-grade class I came here under, and I’ve watched these kids grow and develop over the last six years,” Metzger said. “They have developed into really positive role models over the years within the school.

Third-year Minatare head coach Kyle Cotton, a Torrington native, came into the fold in 2012-13 after spending his first three years of coaching at Lingle-Fort Laramie, Wyo.

“Kyle has done a fantastic job with the boys, getting them to buy in and understanding, and he brings his personal experience from high school, playing college ball and coaching over at Lingle-Fort Laramie before he came to us,” Metzger said.
“They’ve projected a very positive image for Minatare all the way around, whether it be in academics or athletic programs, everything has been forward and been great for the school.”

In Cotton’s first year at Minatare, the Indians began the season with a 9-1 run that included two wins that put them in the Minuteman Activities Conference Tournament’s championship game.
After suffering a 64-33 loss to Leyton, Minatare lost five straight games before the Indians won three in a row. A 62-47 loss to Potter-Dix ended Minatare’s season at 12-7.

The Indians began the 2013-14 season with nine straight wins and earned the No. 1 seed in the MAC Tournament. But Minatare was dealt a 61-53 loss to Potter-Dix in the MAC semifinals and then lost to Garden County 57-37 in the third-place game.
The losses began a slide in which the Indians went 3-8 after their unbeaten start, with two three-game losing streaks. They avenged that earlier loss to Garden County with a 44-42 win in the Sub-District D2-11 semifinals but lost the sub-district final to Leyton 52-39 to finish the season 12-8.

The focus and setting of goals for this season began not long afterward.

“They weren’t satisfied with what happened last year,” Cotton said. “We started out well, but then we struggled down the stretch, had a couple injuries and didn’t play real well.

“They came out at the beginning of this year with great attitudes and were ready to work, and they’ve really worked hard to get where they are. That’s a credit to their character and what they stand for and what they want. We’ve just been working on playing more consistently, and we’ve done that for the most part.”

Minatare earned the chance to avenge its sub-district finals loss from last season and did so with a 53-40 win at Sidney on Feb. 26.
“We had a big hurdle to get over in Leyton in the sub-district final, and then we played pretty well in the district final to beat Cody-Kilgore,” Cotton said of the Indians’ District D2-6 victory, played at Hyannis on March 3 and earning that long elusive trip to state for Minatare.

“We’ve just been playing consistent for most of the year, especially on the defensive end. We make it very difficult for people to score. We run all kinds of defenses, trying to keep people on their toes so they never quite know what they’re going to see.”

Junior point guard Yovan Perez leads the Indians’ balanced scoring attack with a 16-point average and also dishes out 4.6 assists per game. Senior guard Javier Guerrero follows in scoring average with 11.3 per contest.

Senior guard Juan Garfio averages 8.7 points and 3.6 steals, while senior forward Tyler Koke nets 7.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per contest. Junior forward Dominic Longoria adds 8.1 points and 6.4 rebounds, and senior guard-forward Chance McAllister is a big sixth man with 7.5 points and 4.7 rebounds.

“The support all year has been fantastic,” Cotton said. The gym has been full for all our games, it’s been loud. We had fans traveling with us and there were a lot of people up at the district game who really helped us out.
“When Cody-Kilgore made a run, they remained vocal and supportive. They’ve been great and the kids can really feel their presence, and they really appreciate what our fans do for them.”

Cotton said Paxton is very similar to the Indians.
“They have good guards, they have some posts down low who can finish well,” Cotton said of the Tigers. They play defense extremely well, they can move the ball, and they can shoot from the outside.
“They play a lot of zone but they’ll switch defenses and I’m anticipating them doing some things different than they have against other people.

“We just need to come out and focus on ourselves and what we do well and try to avoid the things we don’t do well, and we just need to be able to handle the atmosphere and not get caught up in the moment and just play our game.”

Metzger said it’s been a crazy week in the community” in preparing the team and staff for their nearly 400-mile trek to Lincoln.
“From donations of food and drink for the guys on the way down, and with other donations and support behind them,” Metzger said of the contributions.

Metzger said the number of people who are traveling to Lincoln “is far more than I would have expected,” and from not just Minatare are the fans making the journey.
He said according to numerous posts on Minatare’s Facebook page, “We’ve been getting comments from all over the state and even all over the United States who are from Minatare who are from Lincoln and even Minnesota who plan to go down and watch the game. It’s been tremendous, good support.”

Wednesday morning’s send-off began with a breakfast for the team at the high school put together by parents. They were to load the bus at the elementary school, with the Minatare fire trucks parading them through town to the high school, where the cheerleaders gave them their final support before being led out of town by the fire department.

With their bodies going to still be thinking the tipoff time will be at 8 a.m. Mountain Time, Cotton and assistant coach Matt Korkow have been conducting practices at 6 a.m. since last Thursday.

“Hopefully we can get used to playing in the early morning, come out relaxed,” Cotton said. “And we’ve been practicing how they introduce everyone at state so we don’t get caught off guard and just to keep it normal, and hopefully it works.”

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