BOULDER — It was quite a Saturday night for Overland senior Austin Conway.
First, his future college — University of Wyoming — earned a berth to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Mountain West Tournament championship with an upset of San Diego State. Then Conway scored a game-high 18 points to lead the Trailblazers to first boys basketball state championship in the 37-year history of the school.
“To win two championships is a special day,” Conway said on the court after Overland defeated ThunderRidge 55-42 at the Coors Events Center in the Class 5A title game. “I’ll tell my kids about that.”
Conway and fellow guard junior Reggie Gibson attacked the rim early-and-often in Overland’s first appearance in a basketball championship game since 1990. Gibson finished with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting.
Conway credited Overland coach Danny Fisher’s game-plan of using the Trailblazers’ speed to slash to the basket.
“We knew we (Gibson and Conway) had to show up,” Gibson said. “With us having a big, ThunderRidge having a big we knew somebody needed to step up. Us guards stepped up and we came away with the win.”
It was an anticipated match-up between two of the most dominant big men in the state. Overland junior De’Ron Davis (6-foot-10 and 240 pounds) and ThunderRidge senior Zach Pirog (6-foot-10 and 205 pounds) went toe-to-toe for four quarters.
Davis and Pirog nearly cancelled each other out on both ends of the court. Davis still got the better of the match-up with 15 points and 15 rebounds. Pirog had four points and nine rebounds.
“Zach is a good player, physical,” Davis said. “I wish him the best.”
Pirog has signed to continue his basketball career at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Despite being just a junior, Davis already has numerous Division I offers from the likes of Oregon, Wake Forest, Oklahoma State, Arizona, UCLA, Indiana, Colorado, Purdue and Arkansas.
ThunderRidge never led, but made a late push in the fourth quarter. Senior Noah Szilagyi (15 points) and Austin Mueller (eight points) combined for three 3-pointers in the final quarter to close Overland’s lead to six points. However, Overland was clutch at the free-throw line in the final three minutes going 11-for-12.
“No one forgot what ‘Overland versus everybody’ meant. We all went out there and contributed,” Conway said. “We all laid our hearts out on the line to win. We wanted to prove that our hard work wouldn’t be wasted.”
Losing just two starters (Conway and Ryan Swan) to graduation, the talk of a repeat was already being discussed by the Trailblazers.
“If he (Davis) stays I feel like we can go back-to-back,” Gibson said. “Win it all two years in a row.”
Davis didn’t hesitate when asked if he would go to a prep school or return to Overland for his senior year.
“I’m coming back for sure,” Davis said. “I’m coming back and trying to repeat this thing.”
It was the fifth different 5A state champion in as many years. Denver East (2014), Eaglecrest (2013), Chaparral (2012) and Regis Jesuit (2011) won titles in the largest classification the previous four years to show a sign of parity recently.
“To think about winning a state championship game in the last game of your high school career is something you dream about,” Conway said. “When it comes true it’s a blessing and overwhelming.”
Conway and ThunderRidge junior Clay Verk (eight points) had their moments in the first half. Conway poured in seven points in the opening quarter, lifting the Trailblazers to a 15-7 lead after eight minutes.
Verk came off the bench for the Grizzlies with a strong second quarter. The junior had six points as ThunderRidge closed Overland’s advantage to 21-18 at halftime. Both teams shot just above the 30 percent mark in the opening half.
ThunderRidge was playing in its sixth 5A title games since 2002. The Grizzlies had back-to-back state championships in 2002 and 2003, but now has had to settle for state runner-up in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2015.