After displaying a tendency to let games slip away, Lometa proved it can capitalize on opportunities.
At the three-day Lohn tournament, the No. 18 Hornets went undefeated en route to winning the championship in decisive fashion.
Having three of its first four losses occur after blowing leads of nine points or more, Lometa head coach Aaron Nuckles believes claiming the tournament title was exactly what his team needed with the District 28-1A, Division II schedule rapidly approaching.
“We knew nondistrict was going to be really tough, and we did that on purpose, but we’ve learned from our mistakes,” he said. “I think things are fixing to get on a roll, I hope.
“This was a good experience. I really think we’ve seen everything we need see before district gets going. I don’t want to say we are there yet, but we’re getting pretty dang close.”
Lometa won its four games by a combined 57 points, including a 52-39 victory against Eden in the title game.
In addition to collecting the championship, Hornets sophomore post Kyle Molter grabbed 23 rebounds to go with 10 points and three blocks against the Bulldogs. Based on Nuckles’ research, he believes the performance set a school record for rebounds in a game.
“I can’t find anything anywhere showing anybody has ever had 20 (rebounds),” he said. “We are so excited about him right now. He is finally playing up to his potential.”
Standing at 6-foot-2, Molter produced three double-doubles during the Hornets’ championship run and was named to the all-tournament team along with teammate Eric Nichols, who averaged 15.8 points per game, leading Lometa in scoring twice, including a 22-point outburst against Rochelle.
Although Nuckles believes earning the tournament title will increase his team’s confidence, he does not expect to see his players lose sight of the fact their ultimate goal has not yet been achieved.
“I’ve never had a group like this,” the third-year coach said. “They are really mature to the fact they can get things out of losses, and they know it is not all about wins and losses until they get to district.
“I thought the preseason ranking might hurt us early, but nobody talks about it, they’re not worried about it, and they don’t care if we move up or down. They just want to get ready for district.”
The Hornets (8-4) open district play Friday against Jonesboro in their first home game of the season. Then, they enter the Christmas break, when they will play two games, including an alumni game before resuming their district schedule on Jan. 7.
Nuckles knows playing a district game before the holiday vacation is a risk, but it is one he is willing to take.
“If you win it, you feel really good going into the break, and if you lose it, you feel really crappy going into the break,” he said. “It’s a gamble, but if you can get a win there, it really helps.”
Contact Clay Whittington at firstname.lastname@example.org