ARVADA — The final minute of the third quarter in Thursday night’s semifinal game of the Ralston Roundup boys basketball tournament was a game-changer.
After leading for the majority of the game, Montbello found itself trailing 40-35 after a driving layup by Ralston Valley senior Andrew Wingard. However, a pair of steals in the final 60 seconds of the quarter and three straight buckets gave the lead, 41-40, back to the Warriors heading to the fourth quarter.
“We couldn’t let Ralston Valley get momentum here in their gym,” Montbello coach Ron Bush said after his Warriors pulled away for a 58-47 victory at Ralston Valley High School. “If we would have been down going to the fourth quarter it would have been an uphill climb.”
The Warriors, led by seniors Malik Hart (18 points) and Troy Green (13 points) along with junior Franklyn Penn (10 points), outscored the Mustangs (2-4 overall) 17-7 in the final eight minutes to take the victory.
“That was the turning point,” Ralston Valley coach Mitch Conrad admitted about the 6-0 run by the Warriors to end the third quarter. “Then I think we lost our defensive intensity once we turned it over. We just aren’t a really confident team right now. I think in time we’ll straighten that out.”
Montbello (4-1) will play Rock Canyon (5-1) in the tournament championship game of scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday at Ralston Valley High School. Rock Canyon edged Arvada West 69-63 in overtime in the other semifinal late Thursday night.
“It gives us momentum to get ready for the championship,” Hart said of the strong fourth quarter against Ralston Valley. “Last tournament we had we didn’t finish it out, but this one we are going to finish it out.”
The Warriors finished second in the Fossil Ridge Tournament last week, losing to Class 5A Jeffco’s Dakota Ridge in the championship game.
Hart was a huge part offensively on getting over the hump against Ralston Valley in the semifinal Thursday. He sunk four three-pointers including one with 1:48 left in the fourth quarter that extended Montbello’s lead to 50-44.
“My teammates got me open so I have to credit them,” Hart said. “They got me the ball where I could shoot at a high percentage tonight. I thank my teammates.”
Hart and Green led the Warriors in scoring last season and have started right where they left off. Hart’s game-high 18 points was just above his scoring average coming into the game.
“Malik has seen so many different defenses, but he is still our leading scorer,” Bush said. “He knows when to be patient and when to be aggressive. He is one of the best players in the state. I hope he gets recognized.”
The Ralston Valley players are just starting to recognize each other on the court. Just around half the players were on the Mustangs’ football team that advanced to the 5A semifinals last month. Ralston Valley has had only a handful of practices with its entire varsity team present.
The Mustangs return only one starter in Wingard, who has committed to play football at the University of Wyoming. Wingard scored nine of his 13 points in the third quarter against Montbello, but was held scoreless in the final quarter.
“The thing I like about this group is they are getting better all the time,” Conrad said. “They have made huge strides since we’ve had our whole group together for a few weeks.”
Antonio Capley, a 6-foot-10 junior, led the Mustangs in scoring with 16 points. His bucket with 4:35 left in the fourth quarter cut Montbello’s lead to 44-43, but the Warriors scored the next nine points to take command.
“I just try to play with confidence,” Capley said. “If things are rolling I’ll be staying in the game. Things are still coming together. We’ll get it together.”
Conrad knows Capley will be a key component once Ralston Valley heads into 5A Jeffco League play next month.
“It’s definitely a big plus once he (Capley) gets going,” Conrad said. “We do a good job getting the ball, but we have to stay balanced too.”
Senior Jordan Harnum had a strong game with 15 points for the Mustangs in the loss.
Ralston Roundup schedule
Friday, Dec. 12, at Ralston Valley High School
7th place game: 3:30 p.m. — D’Evelyn vs. Mountain View
5th place game: 5 p.m. — Legacy vs. Grandview
3rd place game: 6:30 p.m. — Ralston Valley vs. Arvada West
1st place game: 8 p.m. — Montbello vs. Rock Canyon