It sure didn't look like it had been four years since they had been there.
Matter of fact, the Melbourne Bearkatz looked, and acted, right at home in the Class 1A State Tournament at Pioneer Pavilion in Harrison.
In their first state tournament game since they made it to the Final Four in 2004, the second of back-to-back trips to the state semis, the Bearkatz smoked Van Cove 69-56 in this year's opening round Feb. 26. The Katz manhandled mighty Van Cove in the critical second half of play, outscoring Van Cove 44-28 in the last two periods, playing catchup to do so.
Van Cove (34-2) was ranked number two in the state's Class 1A ranks and had only suffered one setback on the season before Melbourne (21-11) knocked it out of the state tourney.
Melbourne trailed for the entire first half, but when the Katz did get the lead, they knew just what to do with it.
A traditional 3-point play from Michael Lunsford at the 5:10 mark of the third period provided Melbourne with a 34-33 lead, its first of the night. Lunsford paced the Katz with 23 points.
And Lunsford was just getting started.
He then hit a pair of freebies and knocked down a big trey to push Melbourne on top 39-36.
Van Cove swiped the lead briefly with five straight points, but Kody Caraway (eight points) drilled a triple with 1:20 left in the third to give the Katz a 44-43 lead.
Derek Baird (12 points) hit a shot at the buzzer to keep Melbourne on top 48-45 after three.
Turns out the Bearkatz were not satisfied with a narrow three-point lead.
And in the fourth, Melbourne poured it on.
Lee Lewis (21 points) drained a triple at the 6:02 mark of the fourth, followed by back-to-back jacks from 3-point lead courtesy of Lunsford.
By the time Van Cove knew what had hit it, the Katz had reeled off 15 unanswered point, sending Van Cove to the canvas, trailing 67-48.
Van Cove opened the contest strong, jumping on top 7-0 out of the starting blocks.
But Melbourne managed to keep pace in the first half, with Van Cove holding a 17-13 lead after one and 28-25 at the half.
Adam Jones finished the evening with four points for the Bearkatz.
The Bearkatz' reward for knocking off the number-two team in the state?
A meeting with the state's top-ranked Class 1A team, the Bradley Bears in the quarterfinals Feb. 29.
Melbourne played with every bit the same passion and energy that it did against Van Cove, but in the end, the big Bears (33-3) were just too much, and they knocked the Katz out of the tourney with a 63-51 setback.
But not before getting one heck of a scare from the Bearkatz.
Melbourne was within six points late, 57-51, before Bradley knocked down six big free throws to seal the victory. The Bears were 11-for-17 from the charity stripe in the finals eight minutes of play.
Bradley's pair of Larry brothers -- 6-5 Daniel and 6-4 Christian, turned in big performances for the Bears.
And Bradley needed every bit of the Larry's efforts to combat another outstanding effort from Lewis. Lewis racked up a game-high 30 points, including 17 in the first half, as Melbourne matched Bradley step-for-step.
Melbourne led 15-14 in the first period on a trey from Caraway (nine points), but Bradley went on a 7-2 run to move ahead 21-17 after one.
Then Lewis gave Melbourne the lead at 22-21 as he broke free for back-to-back hoops to start the second period.
The Katz maintained their advantage via a 3-ball from Lunsford (12 points), but Bradley eased back in front by closing the first half with a layup from Christian Larry and 3-pointer from Patrick James.
The Bears opened up their biggest to that point, 36-28, with five unanswered points to begin the third period.
Lunsford stopped that run with a triple and Melbourne managed to close the gap to three points midway into the frame.
But Bradley, too, had an answer. The Bears scored the last six points of the third to move on top 44-35 heading into the final period.
Christian Larry sat out the fourth after picking up his fourth foul in the third period, but brother Daniel tossed in the first seven points for Bradley in the fourth, pushing the Bears to a 51-37 lead.
But Melbourne did not fold. The Katz hung in edged within six, on a layup from Baird and spinning inside move from Lewis with a touch over a minute left to play.
But Melbourne had to foul to extend the game, and Bradley hit its free throws to prevail 63-51, denying a hard-fought effort on the Bearkatz' part.