Some 74 years later, the Hot Springs boys’ basketball team is back at the state tournament.
For this group of Bison, it all started much sooner — going back to the fifth and sixth grades.
Hot Springs took control in the fourth quarter and earned its first state tournament berth since — by all unofficial estimates, 1945 — as the Bison stopped Winner 54-41 Tuesday night in a SoDak 16 game at Carold Heier Gymnasium in Rapid City.
With the win, the Bison will face Pine Ridge in the Class A state tournament in Sioux Falls March 14.
In a tight game through the first three quarters, the Bison used some moxie and strong shooting from Kelton Harris to pull away from the Warriors in the final minutes. Winner scored just 14 points in the second half and had only two field goals in the final 16 minutes.
“We’ve been dreaming about this since the fifth grade — we’ve all stuck together,” Hot Springs senior point guard Thane Lockhart said.
Hot Springs coach Aaron Noteboom said all of the credit goes to his six seniors.
“These guys have been playing hard for us and putting in the work for years,” Noteboom said. I’m really happy for these guys and I’m really happy it paid off for them.”
It was a back-and-forth first three periods — the Bison led 11-9 at the end of the first and 28-27 at halftime. It was a 38-35 game heading into the fourth.
The fourth period belonged to Hot Springs.
Winner scored just two baskets in the second half — both by sophomore Brady Fritz — and was 10-of-16 from the free-throw line. The Warriors went just over five minutes without a point as the Bison ran off 12 unanswered.
“We talked about it at halftime, that we were going to win this game like we’ve won a lot of other games this year, and that was on the defensive end of the floor,” Noteboom said. “The guys came out and they executed the game plan.”
One of the keys in the fourth came when Harris missed a free throw and fellow senior Matt Norton snatched the ball away from a Winner player with position, and found senior Harris at the top of the key for a 3-pointer that put the Bison up by seven.
“It’s just physicality. We push each other every day to get better, get stronger, get faster,” Harris said. “Matt pulled through on his part on that one (offensive rebound). You have to set your team up, and that’s what he did.”
Norton said it is the hustle plays, the little plays, that gets teams wins.
"You have to bust your butt every single play to get that win,” Norton said. “That’s what we did.”
Harris, meanwhile, led all scorers with 22 points.
“Kelton Harris is a big-shot kind of kid,” Noteboom said. “If there is a guy we want to take a big shot in clutch moments, it is him. He stepped up and did it again tonight.”
At the same time, Harris said it was a team effort.
“You can’t be a one-man team. Yes, I played pretty well, but I couldn’t have done it without them … you can’t be one on five,” he said. “You have to have your team and you have to have confidence. When I missed a couple of shots they were on me with, ‘Hey, you keep shooting, you’re going to get them.’”
Alex Bilbruck added 11 points for Hot Springs before fouling out in the fourth, while Norton (eight points) and Lockhart (two points) both had six assists. Morgan Harkless had five points, three blocks, three steals and five rebounds.
Lockhart said that every player came together.
“We’re a family. We have great chemistry and we knew we could pull through with the win," he said.
Fritz had a big game for the Warriors with 20 points — 15 in the first half. He hit three 3-pointers in the first half to keep winner close.
Winner coach Brett Gardner said they pride themselves on the defensive end, and for the most part, he thought they did pretty well on that end of the court.
But it was their offensive struggles in the second half that did them in.
"We just could not get the ball to fall," he said. "That is an attribute to their (Hot Springs) defense. They really defended very, very well. We only had two field goals in the second half and missed those back-to-back front ends of one-and-ones. That was kind of the end of it.”
Winner finished the season at 16-6.
“I’m proud of our guys, they fought. But hats off to Hot Springs, they played very well. They defended and they took care of business,” Gardner said. “It was a disappointing end, but I was proud of our guys.”
The Bison, 20-3, will now concentrate on something this group has never done before — prepare for a state tournament.
“We’re going to try to watch a little film and look at getting some shots and getting after it … game planning,” Noteboom said.
Qualifying for state is big for the Bison and the community of Hot Springs, Norton said.
“To get here and finally win, it means everything,” he said. “It’s a whole another monster, the state tournament, but we’re going to be ready.”
Now the H in Hot Springs might just also stand for history … in the making.
“This is the best thing ever,” Harris said. “It’s an honor.”