WHEAT RIDGE — Golden had a little unfinished business to take care of before turning its attention to the Class 4A boys basketball state tournament.
The Demons, ranked No. 2 in this week’s CHSAANow.com 4A boys hoops poll, hasn’t claimed the 4A Jeffco League title since the 2008-09 season. Golden (19-3, 13-1 in league) took one step closer to ending the drought Wednesday night with a 56-47 victory against its biggest rival — Wheat Ridge (15-7, 8-6).
“We haven’t won league in six years. It’s always been Valor or D’Evelyn,” said Golden senior Ryan Thistlewood who led the Demons with 18 points in the road win. “It’s our turn.”
Golden closes out its regular season at No. 8 D’Evelyn on Friday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. If the Demons defeat the three-time defending league champ D’Evelyn (15-7, 11-3) on its home court Golden will win the conference title outright.
No. 5 Valor (17-5, 12-2) knocked off D’Evelyn 61-50 on Wednesday to end a four-peat for the Jaguars. Valor could still share the conference with Golden.
It will be the third meeting of the season between the Demons and Jaguars. Golden was victorious in both meetings so far this season. The Demons defeated the Jaguars in the championship game of the Preview Classic, which both teams co-host back, in December. Golden edged D’Evelyn 51-48 in a conference game a month ago.
“It’s good. I love playing in front of a full house,” Golden coach John Anderson said of facing the Jaguars on Friday. “It’s probably going to be for a No. 1 seed and a league championship. I’m glad we’re playing them (D’Evelyn).”
Golden threatened to blow out Wheat Ridge early on Wednesday. The Demons grabbed a 12-2 lead in the first quarter. However, the Farmers chipped away at the lead.
“Wheat Ridge kept battling back,” Thistlewood said. “All of the sudden it was a close game. It was going to be a dogfight the rest of the game.”
Wheat Ridge took its first lead of the game with 2:20 left in the third quarter. A bucket by senior Jordan Jones gave the Farmers a 33-32 advantage.
“We clawed our way back into it. We could have lay down,” Wheat Ridge coach Tommy Dowd said. “Our problem is never heart. We’ve got heart. The problem is we are what we are. We are athletic guys who play basketball.”
Golden answered with a 14-0 run to regain the lead and momentum. During a stretch of 5 minutes, 20 seconds to end the third quarter and start the fourth quarter the Farmers were held scoreless.
Golden’s defense employed a box-and-one zone defense in attempt to limit Wheat Ridge’s leading scorer Vedin Kozic. The senior still managed 18 points, but Golden received some key contributions of its own.
Junior Ryan Blodgett had his typical double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore Kayden Sund hit a huge 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter on his way to nine points and seven rebounds. Junior Cole Harris came off the bench for the Demons with seven points, including a key fourth-quarter 3-pointer.
Large student sections on both sides kept the atmosphere buzzing throughout the rivalry game.
“It’s awesome. It’s a playoff-type of game. I’d like to play these guys (Farmers) all the time,” Anderson said. “You get better. You learn. You make mistakes. (Wheat Ridge) plays so hard that we need to step up our intensity a little bit.”
Wheat Ridge’s inside presence of seniors Willie Harris and Dan Rankin kept the Demons from dominating the inside. Harris finished with nine points.
“Golden is a hard match-up for us with their size, length and they can shoot it,” Dowd said. “I thought they played hard and did a good job. I wish them good luck in the tournament too.”
Wheat Ridge hosts No. 5 Valor Christian at 7 p.m. Friday to wrap up the regular season.
Golden, D’Evelyn, Valor and Wheat Ridge are locks to qualify for the 32-team 4A state tournament. The rest of the 4A Jeffco teams will have to hope to be one of the five at-large bids when the state bracket is released Sunday, Feb. 22, on CHSAANow.com.