LAKEWOOD -- Sometimes a little spark can change everything on the basketball court.
Lakewood senior Gabby Carbone provided that spark Friday night in a top-10 girls basketball matchup between the No. 7 Tigers and No. 10 Ralston Valley Mustangs. Lakewood eventually won the Class 5A Jeffco League game by a score of 69-53, but it was dicey early on at Lakewood High School.
“You’d think I would have chewed them out, but I didn’t. They didn’t need it then,” Lakewood coach Chris Poisson said about what he told him team after taking a timeout with 2:12 left in the first quarter and the Tigers trailing 12-3. “They just needed to calm down. I told them they were fine.”
Coming out of a timeout, Carbone buried her second 3-pointer of the quarter and start what eventually turned out to be a 21-0 run for Lakewood (17-1, 11-0 in Class 5A Jeffco League).
“Gabby was awesome tonight. It was the best game she has played,” Poisson said. “Her threes gave us the lift. You could feel it. She was great tonight.”
Carbone finished with 13 points, including three 3-pointers.
“We just freak out sometimes and we get caught up in the moment,” Carbone said about trailing early on in front of the big crowd. “I told them to just calm down and keep playing through it.”
While Carbone provided the ember to give the Tigers the two-game lead over Ralston Valley (13-4, 9-2) in the conference, it was sophomore Mackenzie Forrest who really fanned the flames to victory.
Forrest scored a season-high 30 points. The sophomore poured in 12 points during the Tigers’ 21-0 run. She also made eight straight free throws in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
“We made the mistake of letting (Forrest) dominate the game a little bit,” Ralston Valley coach Jeff Gomer said.
Gomer added that he didn’t want Lakewood to get going offensively on the inside. Lakewood senior Jessica Brooks and junior McKenna Bishop combined for 38 points in the Tigers’ first victory back on Jan. 4 against Ralston Valley.
The Tigers took advantage of the Mustangs packing it in on the inside by hitting seven 3-pointer in the first half.
“We got lucky. Some of our shots finally fell,” Forrest said. “Gabby’s threes were huge. All of our threes were great tonight.”
Defensively, Lakewood patented full-court press also gave Ralston Valley fits and times, leading to breakaway layups.
“We knew coming in if we didn’t handle the press well we’d be in trouble. We didn’t handle it very well,” Gomer said. “That’s my bad. We’ve got some work to do.”
Ralston Valley did have a strong fourth quarter, but never was able to cut Lakewood’s lead into single figures. Seniors Sierra Galbreath (13 points) and Chantal Jacobs (11 points) had solid nights for the Mustangs.
Freshman Ashley Van Sickle showed signs of becoming a possible elite scorer in the near future for Ralston Valley. Van Sickle dropped in 15 points, including three 3-pointer.
The present looks very bright for Lakewood. The Tigers have a two-game lead in the conference with five games league games remaining.
“We know what this does in terms of giving us a cushion. Now it’s up to us to finish the job,” said Poisson about the Tigers closing in on their first girls basketball league title since 2008. “We are also playing for a seed. I’d like to get a No. 1 or 2 seed.”
Ralston Valley heads into the home stretch of its conference schedule when it hosts Pomona at 7 p.m. next Tuesday. Lakewood will face Columbine at 5:30 p.m. next Wednesday at Lakewood High School in the first game of a girls/boys varsity doubleheader.
“We need to keep on going and play to the best of our abilities,” Carbone said. “We can’t just come out and feel like we are better than everyone. We have to play really hard and keep it going.”