DENVER — After having some time to reflect, taking a game-winning charge is better than hitting a game-winning shot in Carter Kreischer's eyes.
In the closing seconds of the first Class 4A state semifinal game, Nieyeme Smyer-Williams drove to the hoop in an effort to tie the game for Pueblo West. As he got the ball out of his hands for the layup, he made contact with Kreischer.
That was the fifth charge the Rangers took in the game and it gave them a 56-54 win and another chance to win the 4A title.
"I know he's going to put that shot up and I know I have to be there," Kreischer said. "I've taken that charge a thousand times in my years at LP, so I know I have to get there."
It was an emotional ending to one of the most intense battles of this basketball postseason. And like in every educational experience, sometimes the hardest lessons come on the biggest stages.
West coach Bobby Tyler had to reiterate that to his boys after the game. The last call of the night sent the rowdy Rangers section into a frenzy and dealt a crushing blow to those in support of the Cyclones.
Sounding like a coach just two years removed from a state championship, Tyler knows that in a two-point game, nothing comes as the result of just one call.
"We didn't play good enough in the first two quarters to warrant a win, I guess," Tyler said. "We missed a lot of layups, we missed some free throws down the stretch."
The action between the two teams really got going in the second quarter.
Matthew Ragsdale, the long range hero who got the Rangers into the Final 4, scored seven of his 12 points in the quarter.
Joel Scott grabbed momentum for Lewis-Palmer with a put back at the buzzer to go to the locker room up 30-25 at the half. Scott continued his run into the second half, scoring the Rangers' first five points of the half. He finished the game with 17 points and contributed on the defensive side as well, drawing two charges on West in the third quarter alone.
"It all started on the defensive end with those charges," Scott said. "It keeps us going."
The Rangers held a 35-31 lead until Billy Bloesser knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner to cut the lead to one.
Lewis-Palmer held a three-point edge in the closing seconds of the third, but Ethan Forrester drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer to push the lead to 42-26 heading into the final eight minutes.
Quick baskets from Noah Baca and Ragsdale increased the L-P lead which stretched out to 11 at one point. But the Cyclones weren't going away quietly. They went on a 10-0 run to cut the lead to one.
They were helped out by Scott, who missed some free throws of his own. He went 5-for-15 from the line.
"We missed quite a few free throws near the end," L-P coach Bill Benton said. "We have to knock down some free throws tomorrow, I know that."
Ragsdale made 1-of-2 to push that lead to two as the Cyclones had one final chance to tie or win the game. Smyer-Williams went for the tie, but committed the offensive foul with 0.1 seconds left on the clock to all but seal the game for the Rangers.
"I know he was set, I'll say that," Benton said.
This marks the second-straight state title game for Lewis-Palmer. The school hasn't won a boys basketball title since 2013. That drought has a chance to end Saturday when the Rangers face Longmont.