George Washington boys basketball edges ThunderRidge in 5A Final 4

(Matt Mathewes/MVPSportsPics.com)

DENVER — Tre Pierce had possibly the biggest block of his life in the Class 5A Final 4.

With about a minute left in the game, Pierce blocked a shot, then ran the floor to get an offensive rebound and the putback lay-in to give George Washington a three-point lead.

"Tre was huge," coach Reggie Hammons said. "He was the reason we won this game."

The Patriots rode the momentum from Pierce to a 61-56 win. He ended with 17 points and four rebounds.

"We just had to stay poised and trust each other," Pierce said.

The points for George Washington came in the paint. The Patriots had 26 points in the paint to ThunderRidge's eight. Pierce guarded the hoop and altered numerous Grizzly shots on the defensive end. On the offensive end, Pierce followed up missed shots with putback buckets and rebounds.

"Head fake, bounce pass was the key," Hammons said. "When we start bounce passing, that's when we start getting the ball to the middle and we can attack."

George Washington played a chippy brand of defense, pressuring ThunderRidge at all times, forcing nine turnovers.

ThunderRidge was held to 19.2 percent shooting in the first half. Two players besides Kaison Hammonds made a field goal in the half.

Every time George Washington looked to be making a run, ThunderRidge found a way to answer. Hammonds went toe to toe with Jon'il Fugett during the first quarter to quell a Patriot run. The two traded threes right in the face of each other.

George Washington closed out the first quarter on a 5-0 run. They broke through again to stretch the lead to 22-12 with 6:32 after a three point basket swished through the net, forcing a ThunderRidge timeout at the end of an 11-3 run.

"We stayed aggressive and used our advantage in how quick and athletic we are," Pierce said. "I used my height and length."

Hammonds swished a three right out of the timeout. His 13 in the first half kept ThunderRidge in the game. He ended with a game-high 27.

ThunderRidge just wouldn't go away.

"That was exciting. I knew coming in they could be very disciplined," Hammons said. "They're a second half team and we had a couple turnovers to let them back in the game and change the momentum."

Casey Fowler hit a buzzer beater jumper to cut the lead to 44-39 and extend an 11-0 ThunderRidge run after Calvin Fugett fouled out with four seconds left in the third quarter.

"It hurt us big time," Hammons said on Fugett fouling out. "But the bench came in, Shawn'Trell stepped up and guarded him."

A technical foul was called with 6:05 in the fourth quarter. ThunderRidge sent Kaison Hammonds to the line.

Hammonds nailed both free throws and suddenly the lead was just one for George Washington.

The Grizzlies were able to briefly take the lead in the fourth quarter, but as was the case all night, the Patriots fought back. An alley-oop to Pierce gave George Washington enough of a cushion to hang on and advance to Saturday's championship game.

It will be George Washington's first appearance in a state title game since 2009.

"We're just focused on state now," Pierce said.