By Brenna Eller
Editor In Chief
PARK CITY – D.J. Mitchell crouched on the Hartman Arena court, head hanging in sorrow.
A sense of finality set in for Mitchell, who is normally upbeat and enthusiastic on the court and around the Hutchinson Community College campus.
The men’s basketball team’s season likely ended Wednesday night, in an 81-76 loss to Seward County in the Region 6 Championship game. The Saints earned an automatic bid to the NJCAA Tournament.
James Rojas, who played his last HutchCC game, had the game-high score of 29 points, and he added 11 rebounds, and made four 3-pointers, was sad to see his career at HutchCC end.
After the neck and neck game, Rojas said, “I really wanted this one. I needed it.”
Starting the game off with a 10-point lead, the Blue Dragons managed to get a couple of 3-point shots in by Tyler Brown and Rojas, who scored several in a row, awakening the Hutchinson crowd.
After a few turnovers and defensive mistakes, the Blue Dragons lost the lead for a while, letting the Saints get back in the game.
“We just didn’t take care of the ball, and the way we played … we had too many turnovers,” Rojas said.
Not giving up, HutchCC came back to end the first half 36-34.
A Brown 3-point shot started off the second half, and it seemed the Blue Dragons were in control. They led by as many as nine points with about seven minutes left, but Seward County reclaimed a three-point lead three minutes later.
Rojas responded by tying up the game 70-70 with a 3-pointer with 3:53 left on the clock. The atmosphere was intense in the gym as seven times the score was tied, but especially toward the end.
After Rojas gave the Blue Dragons a 72-70 lead, the Saints responded with the next five points to take the lead for good.
“Seward County is a good team, they’ve got a team of sophomores,” HutchCC coach Steve Eck said, “We missed some easy shots, and basketball is a game of runs. They got some layups, our defense kind of fell apart for a few minutes there, but we had our chance and that’s all you can ask for.”
The Blue Dragons, who beat No. 3 Coffeyville in double overtime in the semifinals, fell to 26-8 with the loss. They will wait to hear whether or not they get an NJCAA at-large bid on Monday, but it is unlikely.
Rojas’ voice shook when answering how he felt about losing the championship.
“It hurts a lot you know, we’re done, we just have to move on now,” Rojas said.