since the Columbia Heights boys basketball team last competed in a state tournament game; yet the Hylanders will only have to wait a day until their next one after defeating Marshall, 77-59, in the Class AAA opener at Williams Arena on Wednesday afternoon.
"It was worth the wait just getting here," said. "Today, we stepped up in front of a big crowd, with lots of excitement, and played well."
Columbia Heights, ranked ninth in Class AAA and seeded fourth in the tournament bracket, never trailed in the contest, as guard Zach Lofton scored the first two of his game-high 25 points on a jumper 90 seconds into the contest. The Hylanders never looked back en route to the 18-point triumph.
Marshall, making its first state appearance since 2001, could not hang with high-flying Columbia Heights, as the Hylanders took their first double-digit lead 15 minutes into the game and led by 10 points, 40-30, at halftime.
"Marshall is a good basketball team," Braziel said. "But, they started making mistakes that we feasted on and we converted a lot of turnovers into points."
With three of its players—Lofton, Keanu Glover and Ben Glover—already in double-digits in scoring by the halftime break, Columbia Heights continued to pour it on in the second half. The Hylanders never led by less than the 10-point spread they opened the final 18 minutes with until the final horn sounded on the triumph.
With his squad's victory all-but assured, Braziel was able to pull his starters and regulars to find playing time for all his reserves in the concluding minute of the game, after Ben and Keanu Glover had accounted for 20 and 15 points, respectively, to go with Lofton's 25.
"Keanu really stepped up today," Braziel said. "When you start four seniors and one junior, that is a lot of experience out there and that helped today."
Columbia Heights, winners of 12 of 14 games since the start of February, improved to 24-6 on the season with the win.
"We've been on a good run and this is when you want to be on a good run," Braziel said. "Now, we'll see if we can keep it going."
While many a Hylander was anticipating a state semifinal matchup with defending Class AAA champion St. Paul Johnso (the top-ranked and top-seeded team in the tournament), Columbia Heights will instead face New Prague in Round Two at noon Thursday at the Target Center.
New Prague, the Section 1AAA champions, upset Johnson in the game immediately preceding the Columbia Heights-Marshall game and will now take on the Hylanders with a trip to the state final hanging in the balance.
"We saw New Prague earlier this season in a scrimmage," Braziel said. "They are a scrappy, feisty team.
"I'm not making any predictions, but it should be a fun game."
Whatever Thursday's outcome for Columbia Heights, Wednesday's victory guaranteed the Hylanders a full three-game schedule in their first state appearance in four generations.
"We got by today and now we know the season will last until Saturday," Braziel said. "Whether we finish first or fourth, we've found our spot in the history of the tournament and no one can take that away."