LITTLETON — It was a simple mathematical equation on the basketball court Wednesday night at Dakota Ridge High School.
The winner of Arvada West and Dakota Ridge would vault atop the Class 5A Jeffco League and snag one-game lead in the conference with five league games to go.
It all added up for Dakota Ridge, ranked No. 7 in the current CHSAANow.com boys hoops poll. The Eagles (17-1 overall, 8-1 in league) had a key 10-0 run in the third quarter to help them cruise to a 62-48 victory against the Wildcats (13-5, 7-2).
“It’s a huge win,” said Dakota Ridge senior Mason Grothuesmann who had a game-high 20 points. “This game really meant a lot in the conference.”
Grothuesmann was key during a 10-0 run by the Eagles in the third quarter. A-West led 32-31 with 5:34 left in the third after a bucket by senior Zach Kuhlmann. However, the Wildcats wouldn’t score until senior Thomas Neff hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Eagles’ defense created several turnovers and capitalized with buckets in the paint to eventually take a 41-35 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
“I’m so proud of the way our guys were so scrappy,” Dakota Ridge coach Curi Yutzy said of the second half. “We just found ways to get the 50/50 balls, the deflections and rebounds. Mason was a huge part of that.”
Grothuesmann was masterful in the paint with several left-handed layups. Junior Devante Jones, who was limited in his minutes with early foul trouble, combined with Grothuesmann to score 19 of Dakota Ridge’s 21 points in the fourth quarter.
“When you give it away against a good team they are going to penalize you,” A-West coach Jeff Parriott said after the Wildcats had their six-game winning streak snapped. “Their guys did a great job. They pressured us and we didn’t handle it very well. The better team won tonight.”
The Neff brothers, Thomas and Luke, led A-West combining for 24 points. Luke Neff had the hot-hand early with eight points in the first quarter, but Dakota Ridge senior Cody Pittman’s tight defense limited the junior guard to just two points the rest of the game.
Thomas Neff finished with 14 points in having to work hard to get shots off against Dakota Ridge’s tough defense.
“We struggled to score, especially in the second half,” said Parriott as his Wildcats were held to 21 points in the second half.
Dakota Ridge edged A-West 67-62 on the Wildcats’ home court nearly a month ago. The Eagles nearly allowed a 22-point first half lead slip away before making key free throws in the final minute to hang on for the victory.
The Eagles made sure the game was less dramatic the second time around with A-West. It was the third win in a row for the Eagles after having their undefeated record blemished with a home loss to Lakewood on Jan. 26.
“That Lakewood loss was tough, but I think it took off a lot of the pressure from being undefeated,” Grothuesmann said. “It really put it in perspective that we’ve just got to play. It was a good learning experience for us.”
While the loss makes it an uphill battle for A-West to win a league title, Parriott knows it’s not a season-buster.
“You want to win a league title, but really the focus needs to be being the best team at the end of the season,” Parriott said. “We would love to win a league title and it would have been sweet to win tonight, but the reality is there are bigger things at the end of the year that we have to be prepared for.”
A-West stays on the road Friday with a league game at Pomona. The Wildcats should get a challenge when they return home next Wednesday to face Columbine (12-6, 7-2). The Rebels are now tied for second in 5A Jeffco with A-West.
Dakota Ridge squares off against Columbine on Friday night on the Eagles’ home court. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“We will just continue to try to get better everyday. We are happy with our results,” Yutzy said when asked about taking sole possession atop the conference. “I want to make sure the players know the results are coming because of the work they put in.”