LAKEWOOD — There was a game within a game Wednesday night as the top two girls basketball teams in Class 5A Jeffco League squared off.
Ralston Valley, ranked No. 5 in this week’s 5A CHSAANow.com poll, had a one-game lead in the conference thanks to a 69-41 home victory against Lakewood on Jan. 16. The Tigers knew they needed to turn the tables in a big way on the Mustangs.
They did just that with a 63-34 win.
“We just wanted to win going in,” Lakewood coach Chris Poisson said after a dominating 63-34 victory for the Tigers (15-5, 10-1 5A Jeffco). “When we got the lead to 21 points I figured we might as well go for it. It gave us a boost. It was fun to have that game within a game.”
What Lakewood went for was the target of 29-point victory. The number was significant because the second tiebreaker to go into the 5A state tournament as the top seed out of Jeffco is head-to-head margin of victory. Ralston Valley had an advantage of a 28-point win in its first meeting with Lakewood.
So if Lakewood and Ralston Valley take care of business in their final three conference games both will be co-champs in the league, but the Tigers will be awarded the higher seed for the state tournament because of the 1-point margin of victory in the two meetings with Ralston Valley (14-6, 10-1).
“It was a bit terrifying, but we all knew this game was coming,” Lakewood junior McKenna Bishop said. “We had to fight. I think we came out and fought pretty well. We beat them by the 29 points we needed.”
Bishop had a very quite night offensively until the end. The junior’s only two field goals of the night came in the final two minutes that pushed Lakewood’s lead to that key 29-point margin.
Ralston Valley attempted to pressure the ball in the final 30 seconds to get the ball back, but the Tigers were able to run out the clock.
“I hope people don’t think we were trying to embarrass (Ralston Valley),” Poisson said. “We were playing for the seed, just like they didn’t embarrass us the first game.”
Lakewood junior Mackenzie Forrest admitted she was extremely upset with her 1-for-15 shooting in the first meeting with Ralston Valley. Forrest more than redeemed herself scoring a game-high 25 points, including five 3-pointers.
“I’ve been really working on my shot. I’ve been at three shooting sessions outside of practice since (loss to Ralston Valley),” Forrest said. “I’ve been working on the line and arc of my shot. It finally paid off in a great game.”
The Tigers led 17-10 at halftime in a defensive struggle. However, Lakewood poured in six 3-pointers during a 27-point third quarter to extend its lead to 44-23 going to the final eight minutes.
“For as bad as we shot when we played Ralston Valley before it was the opposite tonight,” said Poisson of his team that sunk 13 3-pointers on the night. “We were on fire tonight. It all came together. This is what we can do when it all comes together.”
Junior Marisela Perez, Madeline Miller and Anissa Barela were key for the Tigers. Perez and Miller had 11 points each, while Barela added nine points. The trio combined for eight 3-pointers and Perez made three free throws late in the fourth quarter when she was fouled shooting a 3-pointer.
“It didn’t surprise me,” Ralston Valley coach Jeff Gomer said of Lakewood’s hot shooting in the second half. “We didn’t execute very well tonight, especially defensively. Offensively we couldn’t throw it in the ocean.”
Ralston Valley shot just 18 percent from the field. Sophomore Micheala Shaklee came off the bench to lead the Mustangs in scoring with nine points.
Gomer admitted it didn’t look like his team had a lot left in the tank after playing No. 2 Broomfield on Monday night. However, Gomer was optimistic going forward despite the two losses in three days.
“This group has come a long way,” Gomer said. “We’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.”
Ralston Valley hosts Bear Creek at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 13, before closing out its regular season with a pair of conference road games. The Mustangs travel to Pomona and Dakota Ridge next week before the 48-team field for the 5A state tournament is released Sunday, Feb. 22.
It’s nearly a lock that either Lakewood or Ralston Valley will claim or share the Class 5A Jeffco League championship for the seventh time over the past eight seasons with three conference games remaining.
“We are playing our best right now going into the tournament. That is of utmost importance,” Poisson said.
Lakewood is back out on the road against Dakota Ridge on Friday. The Tigers host Arvada West on Wednesday, Feb. 18, and closes their regular season at Columbine.