LAKEWOOD — The final sprint toward the Class 5A boys basketball Jeffco League title looks to be a photo finish.
The picture got a little clearer Friday night. Dakota Ridge, No. 6 in this week’s 5A boys hoops CHSAANow.com poll, remained atop the conference with a 65-44 victory on the road against the Lakewood Tigers.
Along with dropping their first league go-around with Lakewood, the Eagles (19-2, 10-2 5A Jeffco) were coming off a 10-point loss to Chatfield earlier in the week.
“When we lose we know why we lose. It’s a learning experience,” Dakota Ridge senior Cody Pittman said after scoring a game-high 16 points. “Mainly it’s our defense. We worked on it. We had to get back to who were are, which is defense and transition.”
Dakota Ridge’s tenacious defense set the tone early causing eight Lakewood turnovers in the first quarter. Senior Mason Grothuesmann led the way with six points in the opening quarter.
“I thought Mason was awesome with the steals and deflections, especially early on,” Dakota Ridge coach Curi Yutzy said. “It was all about defense. I’m proud of their effort and how they responded here.”
The Eagles took a 28-15 lead going into halftime, but Lakewood was able to hang around just as the Tigers did in their come-from-behind victory on Dakota Ridge’s home court Jan. 26
Lakewood pulled within 10 points at 49-39 with 5:30 left in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Jacob Storey scored four straight points for the Tigers to give a bit of déjà vu feeling.
“This time we took care of the ball and made Lakewood come get us,” Yutzy said of the final five minutes. “We made some free throws and made the plays we needed to make.”
Dakota Ridge went on a 9-0 run in the matter of a minute to push its lead to 62-43 with less than two minutes to play to secure the victory.
The Eagles’ bench played a big role in the victory. Junior Thomas Bravo (10 points) and Jeff Kania (seven points) provided a big lift.
“Our bench really brought the energy today,” Pittman said. “All of them did a great job of stepping up today.”
Grothuesmann finished with 12 points and junior Devante Jones pitched in seven points. Ten Eagles got into the scoring column as they edged closer to their first boys basketball league championship since the 2003-04 season.
“Dakota Ridge knew what we had and great job to Curi (Yutzy) preparing them for this game,” Lakewood coach Daryl Johnson said. “They wanted this game. They wanted us bad.”
Storey (11 points) and fellow sophomore Kolton Peterson (12 points) led the Tigers (9-12, 6-6) in scoring. The young Lakewood squad has proven to be dangerous this season.
“These Lakewood Tigers are like a box of chocolates. You don’t know what you are going to get,” Johnson said. “Our goal was to compete in league and go to the playoffs. That’s what we want.”
Lakewood closes out its regular season with a pair of road games against Arvada West (Wednesday, Feb. 18) and Columbine (Friday, Feb. 20).
A-West got an important 64-55 victory on the road against Chatfield on Friday night. The Wildcats (15-5, 10-2) remain tied with Dakota Ridge for the conference title, but the Eagles hold the tiebreaker defeating A-West in both league meetings.
A few weeks ago Dakota Ridge held a 14-0 record and seemed primed to capture its first boys hoops league title in over a decade. However, losses to Lakewood and Chatfield reeled the Eagles back to the pack.
If Dakota Ridge takes care of business in its final two conference games the league title will become a reality.
“We’ll do our best to enjoy these two (league) games. We aren’t going to put pressure on ourselves to win those games,” Yutzy said. “We are going to enjoy those games and enjoy the time we have with this group. Hopefully we’ll keep getting better.”
Dakota Ridge hosts Bear Creek on Wednesday before traveling to Ralston Valley on Friday to face the Mustangs. Brackets for the 48-team state tournament is slated to be released Sunday, Feb. 22, on CHSAANow.com.