LAKEWOOD -- Lakewood sophomore Mackenzie Forrest might have to adopt the nickname "The Closer" after Tuesday’s Class 5A girls’ basketball Sweet 16 game.
With 3:12 remaining in the fourth quarter and the scored tied 51-51 in the showdown between No. 2 seed Lakewood and No. 3 seed Highlands Ranch in the Rhonda Blanford Region, Forrest simply took over. The sophomore guard scored six straight points in the matter of 90 seconds to propel the Tigers (24-1) to a 62-52 victory at Lakewood High School.
“I felt like I was distributing the ball more at the beginning so I could get my (scoring) opportunities in those last three minutes. It just came,” said Forrest, who finished with a game-high 22 points, including 11 points in the fourth quarter.
Forrest weaved, spun and dodged past several Highlands Ranch defenders for a driving layup to give the Tigers a 53-51 lead with 2:40 left.
“Our game plan was to pound it into our bigs (Jessica Brooks and McKenna Bishop),” Forrest said. “We did it and then at the end (Highlands Ranch) was so focused on them I got my opportunities.”
A steal 20 seconds after Lakewood took the led Forrest dropped in another layup off a steal. She capped off the remarkable stretch with another breakaway layup off another Falcon turnover with 1:22 left in the game to up the Tigers up 57-51.
“When we are tied or it’s close she always scores those next few points to get the momentum going,” Bishop said of her fellow sophomore. “We just feed right off her and go.”
Bishop (18 points) and Brooks (17 points) were feasting in the paint with offensive putbacks and posting up in the first half. Lakewood coach Chris Poisson said the work on the boards was the key to the Tigers’ first trip to the Great 8 since 2008.
Bishop had six field goals and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the 13th straight victory for the Tigers. The 5-foot-10 sophomore gave a lot of credit to her senior teammate.
“Jessica is amazing. I look up to her all the time,” Bishop said. “Without her there would be no me.”
Highlands Ranch did show plenty of fight coming back from a double-digit deficit in the second half. Junior Logan Opheim canned a trio of 3-pointers in the span of two minutes to give Highlands Ranch a shot in the fourth quarter.
Senior Ciera Morgan (13 points) was also key in the Falcons’ rally. A bucket from Morgan with 3:28 left in the fourth quarter tied the game at 51-51.
Even after the season-ending loss, Morgan made a point to congratulate coach Poisson just outside the Tigers’ locker room.
“It’s huge. We are legitimate,” Poisson said. “Highlands Ranch is a great team and their history is fantastic. It puts us on the real map for sure.”
On Highlands Ranch’s road to finishing as the runner-up in 5A to Regis last season, the Falcons ended Lakewood’s season. Highlands Ranch scored a 20-point victory over the Tigers in the round of 16.
Next up for Lakewood will be a date in the Great 8 against Regis Jesuit. The No. 1-seeded Raiders (23-2) defeated Ralston Valley 85-37 in another Sweet 16 game on Tuesday night.
“What do we have to lose? We’ll see what happens,” Poisson said going up against the defeating state champions that are loaded with talent. “I’ll worry about that when I get home.”
All four of the 5A girls’ quarterfinal games will be played Thursday at the Denver Coliseum.