DENVER — For many, the Thunderdome at Manual High School is a magical place. Kent Denver feels it should be included in the many. There's something about that gym for the Class 3A No. 3 Sun Devils.
They have a knack of overcoming large deficits and coming away with wins.
They trailed Manual big last year only to rally back beat the Thunderbolts. They opted to repeat that successful formula this year. After trailing by 10 heading into the fourth quarter, Kent came away with a 69-68 win, thanks to, among many things, a free throw from Zach Schlichting.
He went to the line with 14 seconds left and the game tied. He had two chances to give the Sun Devils (11-2 overall, 4-0 Class 3A Metro) a lead.
He missed the first one.
"I thought it was good when it went off my hand," he said. "So I knew the second one was going in."
No. 8 Manual had a chance to get off a shot, but Jaedon Bowles, who scored a team-high 24 points, couldn't get in a position to take the shot and was forced to pass it off. When the buzzer sounded, it the Thunderbolts (8-4, 2-1) lost despite holding a big lead in the second half.
"(We committed) mental mistakes and we didn't take care of the ball at the end of the game," Manual coach Omar Henry said. "We'll see them again. We know that's the team we have to beat for the Metro League championship."
It seemed like the Thunderbolts were going to take control earlier and maintain it for the full stretch of the game. They took a five-point lead into halftime and the Sun Devils were unable to contain Bowles.
They were in it at that point mostly because of Coby Gold, who scored 13 of his game-high 25 in the first two quarters.
Manual really seized control in the third when Bowles scored 10 and Gold was held to just two.
"In the third quarter I was being locked up," Gold said. "I found a way to get free in the fourth and get our team back in it."
He couldn't help but look around after the game and think back to a little less than a year ago. It was a similar situation with Manual holding a big lead and Kent having to fight its way back.
The Thunderdome is home legendary battles between Denver Public School rivals. But lately for Kent, when it leaves the confines, it's usually with a similar magical feeling.
"This gym, since last year, has always been magical to us," Gold said. "We keep coming back. We were down I think 19 in this game (last year)."
By the time the Sun Devils had battled all the way back, a mental victory had been all but locked up.
As Kent coach Todd Schayes - confined to the bench after a technical foul - watched his boys scratch and claw, he knew the overall outcome would matter very little compared to what had just been done and what kind of a tone that can set for the rest of the year.
"We were playing with house money," he said. "If they win at the buzzer, we'll be excited to be here a month from now for the district tournament. It's only January 19th."
No need to wait a month. The Sun Devils left the Thunderdome with the win they were seeking and fought so hard for. And as magical as the gym has been to them recently, they can't wait to get back.