COLORADO SPRINGS — In the Class 4A state semifinals last March, Malik Fletcher and his Denver South Rebels got the best of J'on St. Clair, advancing to the championship game.
St. Clair — who was coaching Cheyenne Mountain at the time — saw his season end that day. His chance for payback came Monday night as his Rampart Rams topped the Rebels 62-55 in a non-league contest.
Prior to tip-off, St. Clair admitted that he didn't think his team quite had the chance to gel together in the early part of the season.
The Rams didn't appear to have any trouble with chemistry early as they jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead, forcing the Rebels to burn an early timeout. Their balanced scoring and suffocating 1-3-1 zone got them out to a much-needed 1-9 lead after the first quarter.
"The way we pressured the ball, we did a really good job of pressuring the ball in spots that they weren't accustomed to being at," St. Clair said. "I knew their shooters would just shoot shoot shoot so as long as we stopped the dribble penetration, they couldn't get to their shooters."
After the first quarter it appeared Fletcher's squad had calmed down a bit and was able to make some more field goals and, more importantly, draw more shooting fouls. But it was a block for Chudier Bile that turned into a transition three-pointer for Connor Nelson that gave the Rebels their first real spark of energy in the game.
But that energy was short-lived. The Rebels were only able to muster one field goal in the third quarter and scored nine of their 11 points in the period from the free throw line. Through the course of the game, the Rebels shot 34 times from the charity stripe, converting only 16 of them, far fewer than Fletcher would like.
"The key to the game was our inability to step up to the free throw line and make free throws," Fletcher said. "We missed a tremendous amount of points in the paint, layups and put backs. In a seven-point game you just have to make free throws."
Despite the lack of production from the free throw line, the Rebels were able to maintain pace with the Rams with the majority of the second and third quarters. With a 42-31 lead, Rampart guard Cal Zeb Roberson knocked down a big three, increasing the lead to 14 points. Point guard Romeo Maestas hit a similar shot in the fourth quarter to increase the Rams lead to 12 at that point.
"They were great; those guys hit (the shots) and they gave us energy," senior Donovan Oldham said. "Both of those guys are just sophomores so it was big for them to step up like that."
Maestas led all scorers with 18 points, with 11 coming in the fourth quarter. Oldham added 15 of his own to help the Rams hang on for the 62-55 win.
"I know Denver South is going to be in the top 10, they play a good schedule," St. Clair said. "This prepares us for (Tuesday) which is the start of our league play so this is good."