DENVER — Right out the gate Regis Jesuit, two-time defending Class 5A girls basketball state champions, got a significant test.
The D’Evelyn Jaguars, ranked No. 6 in the 4A girls basketball CHSAANow.com preseason rankings, gave the 5A preseason No. 1 Raiders all they wanted on opening night of the 2014-15 hoops season at D’Evelyn Junior/Senior High School. D’Evelyn never led, but closed to within four points at 60-56 with 2:34 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“We were right there,” said D’Evelyn coach Chris Olson who admitted that he asked himself if he was “crazy” to schedule Regis for his team’s opener. “We were just so tired. We just ran out of gas in the end there.”
Regis held on to win 67-59 thanks to a key jumper by senior Jessica Lewis with just more than two minutes to play. Junior Julia Drexelious and Lewis combined to make 5-of-6 free throws in the final minute to seal the victory.
“Jess (Lewis) is definitely our captain,” Regis junior TaeKenya Cleveland said. “She is the one who stays calm. If she isn’t calm nobody is. When everything goes crazy and chaotic we get the ball to her.”
Without Cleveland the Raiders would have been in serious trouble Monday night. The junior poured in a game-high 30 points. Lewis and junior Ezekia Johnson pitched in 12 points each in the first in-state victory in more than a year that wasn’t a double-digit win for Regis.
“I was a little surprised,” Cleveland said of the close road game. “We got the ‘W’ and that is what counts.”
It was tall task in the opener for D’Evelyn considering the Raiders have a 42-1 record against in-state teams during their back-to-back championship runs over the past two seasons. However, the three-time defending 4A Jeffco League champion Jaguars have had their own recent success finishing as the 4A state runner-up in 2012 and 2013.
“I think what you saw tonight is these girls aren’t going to let anything go quietly,” D’Evelyn coach Chris Olson said. “They are going to fight for all that tradition and success that we’ve had here.”
Regis led by as many as 15 points in the first half, but a 24-point third quarter by D’Evelyn closed the gap. The Jaguars hit five 3-pointers in the quarter. Junior Lexi Reed poured in 10 points in the quarter after being shutout from the scoring column in the first half.
“Coach (Olson) told us at halftime to show him what we were going to be about this season,” said Reed, who was an all-state 4A cross country selection this fall after a third-place finish at state. “We came out on fire.”
Reed and fellow junior Aubrey Sotolongo each finished with a team-high 14 points. Senior Morgan Ducklow contributed 13 points in her return after a long battle with an ankle injury that kept her off the court for the majority of last season.
“More than anything we are just happy for her (Ducklow),” Olson said of Ducklow’s homecoming. “She has just had such a struggle for more than a year. I’ve said she is the best shooter we’ve ever had in the program.”
The Jaguars will attempt to build on what Olson said was his “best loss” of his coaching tenure at D’Evelyn when the Jaguars head to the Mountain Vista/Rock Canyon Tournament that begins Thursday.
Regis has a quick turnaround, hosting Monarch at 7 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday, Dec. 2). The Raiders hope to have head coach Carl Mattei on the bench in their home opener. According to Regis assistant coach Kenny VanRyn, Mattei missed Monday’s game after coming down with a touch of the flu and was at home resting.
“TK (Cleveland) stepped up and made some big shots,” VanRyn said. “We outlasted them in the end.”